Sustain DuPage has a Victory Garden at the Theosophical Society in Glen Ellyn. It’s a tiny plot of land, and it was an experiment: How much food can we actually grow in our backyard? And the answer? A LOT! Check out the video below!
Sustain DuPage has a Victory Garden at the Theosophical Society in Glen Ellyn. It’s a tiny plot of land, and it was an experiment: How much food can we actually grow in our backyard? And the answer? A LOT! Check out the video below!
I often get asked what I do in my free time, and my answer is usually “meh.” I hate talking about what I do in my free time. I could be hiking the Incan trail for fun and if someone asked I’d be like, um, nothing really comes to mind. I am TERRIBLE at talking about what I do with my life, my day-to-day, everything in between. I’ve been trying to be better, and at least have some salient points picked out, elevator speech style, to fling at the nearest well meaning acquaintance who asks before I sprint in the opposite direction.
But I’m happy to talk about a new ‘thing’ occupying some of my free time: Sustain DuPage! It was founded by one of my closest friends, Andrew Van Gorp. He had a vision for teaching sustainability practices and community building in DuPage county, and one evening at his place he asked me to help him build a website. Sustain DuPage grew from there, with Andrew doing all of the heavy lifting. He recently received 501(c)(3) status for Sustain DuPage, and I was one of the people he asked to be a Board member.
Sustain DuPage is small but right on the cusp of exploding into something huge. We are spearheading a DuPage County-based environmental commission that brings together environmental commissions from municipalities all over DuPage County (even though it is not run by or affiliated with the county). We have teamed up with the Illinois Environmental Council, which does great work at a legislative level – they’re responsible for the excellent microbead ban in Illinois, that prevents, within the state of Illinois, the sale or manufacture of exfoliating cleansers with little plastic beads, which get into our water systems and ruin everything.
(If you’re mad about this because you want to exfoliate, I recommend getting a thing of powdered milk. Keep it in a wide mouth jar in your bathroom. Wet your face, and pat your wet fingertips in the dry milk, then massage it all over your face. You’ll have to apply 2-3 times, but dry milk will slough off skin cells and then moisturize the skin underneath. It’s great for your skin and doesn’t hurt the environment the way those gnarly little plastic beads do!)
Anyway, I’m very excited about Sustain DuPage, and very excited to be a board member. We’ve got some great things that we’ve already done, and great things in the work. From time to time, I’ll probably update about our activities. You’re welcome to check us out on the website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and we’d be honored and humbled by your donations, if you chose to make any (remember, 501(c)(3)!).
For those who don’t know, Noor Tagouri is a first-generation Libyan American hijabi Muslimah with aspirations to be the first American hijabi anchorwoman. She’s currently a news reporter for @Newsy, a video news network that publishes short videos about breaking news stories and feature pieces. Noor has done stories about Detroit being America’s first Muslim majority city, the White House’s first Eid-ul-Fitr dinner, and Moroccan pottery. She is currently in the Boston-area, where she’s exploring Salem for Newsy and preparing to speak at UMass.
Noor recently “posed” for Playboy (except she didn’t, at least not in the way I am intentionally implying), and the backlash has been considerable. For those of you bored by implication and insinuation, you can do what I try to do every day as a lawyer: Go to the source. For me, it’s usually statutes. For this story, it’s the Playboy interview featuring Noor Tagouri, who was named as one of Playboy’s 2016 Renegades. Noor also posted a behind-the-scenes video regarding the shoot on her Instagram, which you can watch here.
Noor’s partnering with, endorsement of, fierce support for Playboy is driving (mostly) American (but also international) Muslims crazy, but that’s probably a freebie given that this group equates her doing an interview with Playboy as an explicit heartfelt avowal of support for everything Playboy and Hugh Hefner have done since the publication came into existence.
(Can you *hear* me rolling my eyes?)
I’ll try not to let my sarcasm overwhelm my writing. I anticipate that it will be difficult.
Anyway, Muslims in America and across the world are outraged. The vitriol spewed across Noor’s various social media platforms is approaching alarming. There are extensive Facebook discussions about how a hijabi could desecrate herself and her religion and all Muslims worldwide by deciding to do an interview with Playboy.
(At this point, I will ask again that if you haven’t read the Playboy article yet, please do so. Don’t be one of those folks who forms opinions on things without having actually seen the source material.)
Noor is being called a race traitor, an agent of Western imperialism, an agent of Western secular liberalism that is out to destroy Islam from the inside, an agent of Western liberal feminism that is out to destroy Islam, a whore, a ‘hoejabi,” a munafiq (or hypocrite, a very serious charge to make against a Muslim, in historical context), and all other pejoratives you can think of.
All for the sake of an interview, and two pictures.
Let’s turn to the interview itself, first.
The Fashion, Styling, and Aesthetic of the Photographs:
Noor appears in the photos selected fully covered, wearing black jeans, white converses, a white top, a black leather jacket, and an olive green hijab. A nice color palette, in my opinion. Very neutral. The black-and-white combo is classic and understated, and the olive green provides some color but not too much – olive green is considered a neutral, after all, and, #protip, it’s a color that goes with basically all other colors, so if you’re accessorizing and not sure what will match, but wanting to stay away from white and black and oatmeal for whatever reason, olive green and a muted purple are two colors that will work.
Her outfit is modest. Her clothes are not skin-tight, and she is fully covered, only the skin of her face and hands (and a sliver of ankle between her shoes and her jeans) is visible. For some people (I’m thinking more of her critics here), that’s the hill they want to die on when it comes to modesty. Fine. Noor passes that “test.”
(And make no mistake, for a hijabi, there are many, many “tests.”)
She’s wearing makeup. For some people (again, I think of her critics here), this is apparently the first cardinal sin she committed. How dare she wear makeup! That’s immodest! Ironically, I saw many of these “it’s so gross that she got her picture taken with loads of makeup plastered on!!!” comments from hijabi Muslim women whose IG icon showed them wearing plenty of foundation (no one’s skin is that even toned, dear), loads of eyeliner, fake lashes, and more. I have no quarrel with the makeup – I roll my eyes at those who think it’s a sin to wear it, but everyone should do what they believe in. I have a big problem with the hypocrisy.
Noor is also accused of “puckering up provocatively,” a sin exacerbated by the fact that this is Playboy, I guess. Maybe it wouldn’t have been as sinful and debased if she was doing so on the cover of Newsweek? Who knows – I’m not going to try to distill the questionable logic here.
Except if you look at the pictures, she’s not puckering up at all. In one, she is yelling – legs shoulder-width apart, arms out, standing on top of a little ladder and YELLING. Yes, very sex. Much provocative. In the other picture, she is sneering. A lip-lacquered, edgy beauty ad campaign, Zendaya-esque pretty sneer, sure, but hardly a provocative pucker.
If there are other behind the scenes photos or outtakes of her performing fellatio on a popsicle or lifting up a niqab to reveal a perfect pout, I haven’t seen ’em. As it is, if these are the pictures folks are describing as provocative and sexual, I am awed of their innocence that THIS is what passes as sexual to them. (Or, I’m horrified that their sexual frame of reference is so limited and lacking that, again, THIS is what passes as sexual.)
The background is where I can understand people being upset, I suppose. It’s an American flag with bullet holes. In an age of Trump-emboldened racists physically attacking and even killing Muslims around the country, and unarmed Black men and women being shot with impunity, I can see how the image of a Muslim woman posing in front of a flag riddled with bullet holes can be seen as problematic by some.
My personal stance? If that’s the thing we’re most upset about, in general, then we’re in great shape. I’m being glib, but in all seriousness, I do understand why people find it problematic. I am not well-versed enough in that discussion yet; I’d like to read more about it. At first blush, when I saw the images, I was not upset by that, though. But then again, I watch videos of grown men having sex with infants as part of my job, so my spectrum of offensive v. inoffensive is already obviously very skewed and abnormal from the get-go.
The Medium Over the Message, and the Fetishization of the Hijab
So, okay, the images themselves are pretty modest by most standards. So why is Noor still being called a ‘hoejabi’ and, by some, an actual whore?
It of course has to do with the medium she chose: Playboy. It also has to do with a social phenomenon that grossly sexualizes the hijab, and I’m referring specifically to hijabi porn, with plenty of Mia Khalifa references bandied about. So let’s talk about that. And, of course, I can only speak as a former-hijabi.
Many believe the medium is the message. I agree with that to an extent, but it’s an oversimplification. The medium is only part of the message. Playboy has for decades been about pornography. It’s true that in recent years, they’ve moved away from distributing pornography, as Noor pointed out on her Twitter in response to the backlash. But it’s a little disingenuous to pretend that Playboy has absolutely zero connection to pornography – it certainly does, historically, and that association will linger for some time even if Playboy were to only run stories and photoshoots of nuns at a convent. So that was a little…well, I rolled my eyes at that tweet.
The sexualization and fetishization of the hijab is what has many, certainly including hijabis, upset. And this is a valid point: the sexualization of hijab has hurt many in very real ways, and there is no denying that. Plenty of hijabis can and have spoken about that better than I can as a non-hijabi, so I will leave it at that. And if you want to read about the creepy sexual fetishes men have for hijabis, well, just browse reddit. It’ll make your skin crawl.
It is clear from the photos that Noor is not intending to be sexual. (At least, it’s clear to me.) But intent has a very limited role/importance when we are talking about things like racism, homophobia, sexualization, misogyny, etc. So I hesitate to fly my flag on how SHE DIDN’T MEEEAAAAAAN TO, GUYS!!! We all know that, for example, even though someone doesn’t “mean” to be racist, their words and actions can cause very real pain and harm to POC. So that argument doesn’t get us very far.
These photos of Noor would not be seen as “sexualization” or contributing to the “fetishization” of hijab if they were, for example, appearing in Time or Newsweek or the Huffington Post or even on her own IG. Sure, you’ll always have those Muslims – they make my skin crawl and my teeth gnash – who feel that any image of a Muslim woman that shows any of her own agency, however modest she may be in it, is provocative and sexual and sinful, simply because the Muslim woman isn’t shying away, isn’t demure, isn’t the victim of a passing photographer but rather the author of that photo. That’s a horseshit perspective that I have no respect for.
So, yeah, the obvious argument here is for me to say, nah, these pics wouldn’t be offensive if she just put them up on IG, or if they were in Time magazine; we wouldn’t be crying out about sexualization or fetishization.
It matters because they were in Playboy. It matters because of that “medium is the message” concept. It matters to some that Noor is celebrating the interview and the designation of Renegade as an accomplishment, rather than being more sedate about it and very clear that she is using Playboy as much as they are using her – that it’s a media outlet with a wide readership that she is trying to reach.
Playboy will never escape the association with pornography. That’s my feeling. And any woman who appears in its pages will be tainted by that implication as well. Now, if Playboy sat down with Pope Francis or Prince William or Cornel West, they wouldn’t have the same problem. No, it’s specifically the *women* who appear in Playboy, whether nude or fully covered like Noor, who will have the window through which they’re viewed smudged with slime.
Imam Suhaib Webb, standing up for Noor, tweeted that even Malcolm X sat down with Playboy for an interview. This statement is problematic for a few reasons, and isn’t as good an analogy as I’m sure he was hoping it would be. There is a big difference between Malcolm X, one of the most important Black Americans in history, and Noor Tagouri. Sorry, Noor, but there is. (I don’t think she’d be offended by that statement, LOL. I’d hardly be offended if people said I was no John Marshall.) You simply can’t compare the two. Also, Malcolm X didn’t exactly celebrate his Playboy interview – he stated clearly that it was a White Man’s media, not for him, not supporting him, not about him, and he sat down with Playboy with all of that in mind.
So, yes, a big arguing point for many Muslims is that Noor sat down with Playboy and celebrated it, and in doing so sexualized the hijab and contributed to its fetishization.
I agree to an extent. There was nothing sexual about her shoot or her interview. At all, in my opinion. It’s mere sexualization/fetishization by association, not because of anything she did or wore or said. And that’s really unfortunate, that her message, which was quite worthwhile, was effectively lost in the shouts of outrage about the medium.
There will be readers, too, for whom her message is lost as well because she’s spank bank material. There will be some creepers who read the Playboy article and masturbate to the image of Noor sneering at them. That will make these creepers, the argument goes, more likely to masturbate to other ‘normal’ images of hijabis in ‘normal’ environments and out in the real world. Okay, fine, sure. Yes, men will masturbate to pictures of Noor. (I’m sure there are already plenty of men, Muslim men included, who scroll through her IG and masturbate to that. Let’s not stick our heads in the sand about that.)
But here’s the thing: there really isn’t an environment (except a masjid MAYBE) where a hijabi woman or ANY woman, really, will be “safe” from that. I’ve seen a man literally jacking off while he watched me walk by, dressed in the skirt suit I wear to court (as in, modest, professional, etc.). Our culture here is one of constant objectification.
Noor is an objectively attractive woman and I’m sure that men have been masturbating to her picture for years and will continue to do so for years. (Sorry if the way I’m saying it creeps you out, Noor!) Yes, Playboy knew what it was doing when it took an objectively beautiful, fair skinned, thin hijabi girl and put her in its pages. Sure, it does contribute to the sexualization of hijabis.
But, generally speaking, an attractive hijabi woman walking down the street also contributes to the sexualization of hijabis. (With a smaller audience, duh, so I understand that my argument doesn’t match up all the way there just based on how wide Playboy’s readership is.)
What I’m interested in here is the backlash. Guaranteed, the Muslim men calling her out for turning the hijab into a porn symbol (?????) somehow, have also said really gross, sexual things about women they’ve seen in their everyday lives. So pardon me if I don’t take them very seriously.
I’m more concerned with the hijabis that are troubled by what they see as sexualization, because I cannot speak about/to that. That’s not my experience, and I’m not going to dismiss their lived experiences. I trust them when they say that sexualization of the hijab is a huge problem. I trust them when they say that Noor has not helped the issue. Their perspective on this is more valuable than mine; these were just some niggling thoughts I had about the issue of sexualization.
Let’s Stop with the Causation Between This and Hijabi Porn:
And this only barely touches on hijabi porn, but that’s intentional: I am not persuaded of a causal relationship here, at all. Yes, some men love hijabi porn. Unless Noor suddenly drove up demand for that all by herself since this interview was released, like, why are we laying that at her feet? Yes, hijabi porn is disgusting and extremely offensive to Muslims because the hijab is a symbol of modesty and one’s relatioship with God, much like the yarmulke or a nun’s habit. Is Noor appearing in Playboy the same as Mia Khalifa’s oeuvre? Hell, no. That argument is weak and I’ve already spent too much time on it.
Sexualization and fetishization, yes, that’s part of this discussion. Drawing a direct corollary to hijab porn videos? Nah. Don’t come at Noor with that shit.
Muslims’ Policing of the Muslim-ness of Other Muslims:
There is a big, big problem in our community in general of policing other people’s Islam, and that problem is exacerbated when it comes to hijabis. Hijabi women are seen as ambassadors of the faith, a mantle they never asked to wear and never took up on their own (unlike the hijab). I said earlier that hijabis were subjected to tests that non-hijabis just weren’t, and it’s a sad fact in our community.
God forbid a hijabi woman wear a t-shirt that rides up to show the curve of her bottom when she bends her bottom (much less actual skin!). God forbid a hijabi woman hold hands with a man (who, let’s be real, might very well be her husband, as many cultures that fall under the umbrella of Islam don’t really emphasize wedding rings), or is seen talking and laughing with one. God forbid a hijabi woman wear what others consider to be too much makeup. God forbid a hijabi woman laugh a little too loudly or sweetly when there are men present. And the list goes on and on and on. These are actual complaints I have personally heard issued about hijabi women; I am sure actual hijabis can relate much worse.
The backlash exhibits all of that. An alarming amount of Muslims have shown themselves extremely eager to question Noor’s worthiness to wear hijab (??? Ridiculous!), to question her morals, to question her modesty, to question her literal chastity (GTFOH!), to question whether she’s even a true Muslim.
*That* is so much more disgusting and offensive to me than if Noor had been spread eagle in an American flag-print bikini and a white hijab in the pages of Playboy.
No one is ever in any position to question another person’s personal relationship with God or that person’s personal religious beliefs. No Muslim is ever allowed to decide or even pass any kind of judgment on whether another person is Muslim, or “Muslim enough,” ever. That’s a literal teaching in our faith. God is very clear that we are to keep our noses out of that shit and mind our own lives.
We can disagree with other Muslims, we can talk to them about it, we can call them out about it, we can condemn their actions and words, we can caution other Muslims about them, but to question whether someone who identifies as a Muslim is actually a Muslim? Nope. That is not something we are entitled to do.
Muslims do an excellent job policing each other, anyway, though. It’s disgusting and infuriating. But no one suffers more as an object of that aggressive policing than hijabi women. God forbid they ever screw up. The cloth on their heads means that the rest of us can ask for their blood.
“She did it all for self promotion! This isn’t helping the cause!”
I am seeing this around the internet a lot: that Noor did this all for self-promotion, for fame, for getting her name and face out there.
And I ask: SO FUCKING WHAT.
Let’s assume it’s 100% true that Noor’s motives were 100% selfish. That she did this because she wanted greater visibility and exposure. SO WHAT. Everyone who gives an interview like this is promoting something, and the something is often themselves. SO WHAT if she was doing this all for publicity and to further her brand?
I’ve also seen Muslim men complain that “this isn’t helping the cause.” (Hijabi women, when they say the same thing, are speaking more specifically in the context of sexualization, and I give that more credence than the men talking about ‘the cause.’)
So, okay, this isn’t helping the cause.
Remember how I said that hijabis are seen as the ambassadors of Islam? This is another example of that.
What if Noor legitimately was not doing this for Muslims or Islam, but was doing it for herself? So what? She’s entitled to do that. She, as a hijabi woman, is entitled to promote herself and not her faith if she feels like it.
Said in a better, clearer way: Noor Tagouri is allowed to do something that doesn’t follow the very narrow, circumscribed path of Helping the Image of Islam. Everything she does does not have to “further the cause.” That’s an incredible amount of pressure to put on someone, and it’s unrealistic and sets them up for failure – puts them up on a pedestal so we can have fun pulling them down. It’s sadistic and, frankly, boring. We’re better than that.
“The MonoCulture demands, ‘Be Like Us!'”
I’ve seen this, too. People accusing Noor of falling for the trap and letting the hegemonic, Western, liberal, feminist, secular culture pull her into its folds in such a way that she compromises her Islam.
Sitting down with Playboy, doing a photoshoot and doing a pretty nice (read: tame) interview with them in no way compromises her Islam and renders her devoid of all the things that separate Muslims from the values we ascribe to Playboy (nudity, hedonism, sexual commodification, sin, etc).
In the pages of Playboy, Noor is still very much the Other. Don’t lose sight of that.
Her being in Playboy does not make her typical Playboy fare. Her being in Playboy does not make her typical Western, liberal, feminist, secular fare. Her name, her ethnicity, her hijab prevent that quite neatly.
Her being in Playboy does not in the least compromise her Islam.
“Forgive her, for she knows not what she does!”
She is young, I’ve seen written. She is a young, dumb girl who is blinded by online stardom. Noor, please make some friends that will guide you on the right path. Noor, please seek advice from elders and Islamic leaders before you do something like this. Don’t be mad at her, she’s just a pawn in liberal feminism’s game! She didn’t know what she was doing, she fell in their trap.
Noor is a smart young woman, but more importantly, Noor is a woman with her own agency.
She knew what she was doing. For better or for worse, whatever you want to ascribe to that knowing, Noor knew what she was doing. She knew that her choices would be discussed. She had to have known that some would praise her, and many would condemn her. She had to know that there would be backlash.
And she did what she did knowing all that, I’m sure.
I do not know Noor personally, but I know of her, and I know some of the girls in her social circle. Some of them are very smart young women studying Islam under some of our finest American scholars. And I know from her general social media posts that Noor knows her own fair share of Muslim leaders and Muslim scholars.
It’s as likely as not that she did talk to some of them like this. Who knows what advice she got? We know very little, because Noor herself hasn’t said much about this at all, presumably because she wanted to wait until people set down their pitchforks.
But all this “she didn’t know what she was doing” talk makes me imagine her as a little girl bumbling around and falling into the pages of Playboy without a clue. That’s not what happened; let’s give her more credit than that.
This might be one of those things that she grows up to regret. It might not be. That’s her business. But Noor knew exactly what she was doing here.
The Past and Future of Playboy:
A Muslim woman does not belong in the pages of Playboy, is the main theme among her critics. And I get it. I understand that perspective.
She’s hardly the first Muslim to be in Playboy, back when Playboy was a pornographic magazine, but she’s the first hijbi Muslim. And although I’ve already discussed why I think the “but Playboy doesn’t do porn anymore!!!!” argument is a wee bit disingenuous, I want to return to that a little.
The fact remains that Playboy doesn’t do porn anymore, or at least not like they used to. The publication still objectifies women, and there’s no shortage of scantily clad women on the site.
But there are also articles on that site about Grammar Girl, and Vince Staples, and making room for writers of color, and a catfish recipe, and asexuality, and the roots of skateboarding. Yes, Playboy has always had articles, but now that they no longer do porn the same way they used to, the articles are different, too. The style is different, the feel is different. Noor is not in the Playboy of yesterday, a few pages from Linda Lovelace. (Her story is compelling and tragic. If you think you can stand it, read about her.)
Perhaps, and by now it should be obvious that I’m employing the Islamic teaching to always make as many excuses as you can for someone else’s perceived shortcoming, Noor saw that Playboy was changing its direction, moving toward a more GQ-esque snappy pop-political journalism style, and wanted to be a part of that voice.
The Objectively Pretty, Skinny, Fair Skinned Muslim Girl Aspect:
I spoke earlier of Noor using Playboy (for exposure and their readership) and Playboy using Noor (superficially objectifying a pretty Muslim girl in a hijab), and this being part of what rubbed people wrong, too. But that begs the question: would we be so up in arms if Noor wasn’t … Noor? A gorgeous, fair skinned, skinny, possibly occasionally white-passing (but for the racialization of Islam) woman with a winning smile?
Let’s make it personal: would we be attacking a Muslim woman like this if it were me that posed for Playboy in this article?
I’m Muslim, although not hijabi (with no intention of ever being hijabi again, frankly). I’m far darker skinned than Noor. I wear glasses. I am short. I have no discernable cheek bones under this stubborn baby fat on my face. I could stand to lose ten pounds. I wear very little makeup and when I do, my discomfort in it is obvious.
Would I be subject to the same attacks from the Muslim community as Noor? Somehow, I don’t think so. And we HAVE to acknowledge that that is part of the problem, and that Noor’s objective attractiveness is a part of the lens through which we are viewing her and this situation. We’d be dishonest if we didn’t.
We can talk about Noor’s motivations. Most people are. But it’s all speculation on our parts, so we don’t know. Self-promotion, money, dawah (religious outreach), access to their wide readership for her personal brand, fame, a stepping stone to other media opportunities, notoriety, whatever. (In ticking off those things, we should consider also that this was a sincere attempt on her part to make American Muslims, and American Muslim women, more visible in a positive, empowering light, that would create more opportunities for other Muslim girls.)
But the fact of the matter is we don’t know what she was thinking, and we are ascribing a lot to her in this backlash that is probably undeserved. A lot of stuff I’m guessing we wouldn’t be laying at her feet if she wasn’t as attractive as she is.
But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe if it were me in Playboy, talking about the need for more Muslim women in criminal defense, or some other worthy and generally feel-good topic, I’d be subject to the same sexual slurs and abuse that Noor is receiving. What do I know?
Islam and Muslims are Not a Monolith, and Never Have Been:
It is also important to remember that Muslims are not a monolith, and Islam was never written in stone. So many Muslims are decrying this and calling for a return to “shariah values,” instead of what they see as a more liberal Western Islam. Well, that’s great, but even the more traditional and conservative Islam they favor was never what they imagine it was.
Even in the time of Muhammad (S), attitudes and perspectives on Islam differed. Perspectives on and practices of Islam varied even across the limited geographic area of the Arabian peninsula, when the founder of the Muslim faith was still alive! Then trace the next 1500 years across the world and you really get a good sense that there is no one, single, Islam. It varies across time and geography and culture, which is why I find the condemning of “Western Islam” and “liberal American Muslims” as mildly amusing. Sure, you may not agree with the ideas of other Muslims, but to pretend that there is one core, cohesive, unchanging, pure version of Islam that they have intentionally strayed from is just silly.
Also, none of this is about “rights.” Noor has every right to do what she wants, and everyone else has every right to complain about it. Every lawyer instinct in my body cringes and seizes when I see that some media figure is being criticized for something he/she said, and people are complaining that his/her First Amendment rights are being violated. Nah. Read the Constitution. And then find something else to hang your hat on. So let’s dismiss that bullshit question of “rights,” outright.
This is about how we’ve responded. And we have behaved badly. This post can probably be read as a defense of Noor Tagouri. I don’t know that it is, and I don’t know that it’s not. But it’s certainly a push against the backlash she’s suffered. I don’t know that her sitting down with Playboy was empowering, or that it wasn’t. I don’t know what her motivations were. I don’t know whether this was an attempt at dawah (religious outreach) or not.
What I see is that many of the people complaining about it haven’t read it, or looked at the pictures. What I see is that many people are complaining that this will further legitimize hijabi fetish porn, which I think is a tremendous reach in terms of an argument. What I see is that we are all very quick to police the “Muslimness” of a Muslim woman, that we apply stringent tests to hijabis, and beautiful hijabis especially, that we may not necessarily apply to other Muslims or even other Muslim women. What I see is that an alarming number of Muslim men are very quick to label her a “fucking whore” that desecrates the beauty, modesty, and dignity of Islam, and then ask her for a blowjob.
What I see is that we have behaved badly, and even if there was some way to say that what Noor did was 100% objectively wrong, wrong, wrong, we still have a lot of difficult questions to ask ourselves about how we’ve treated her, and how we treat other Muslims.
My personal stance on this is unimportant, but I’ll share it, anyway. The medium matters, of course. But so does the message. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other does us all a great disservice. That kind of myopic view is nothing to be proud of. And is Noor Tagouri posing for Playboy, in terms of problems afflicting American Islam or Islam in general, really the hill we want to die on? I hesitate to play Oppression Olympics or outline any kind of hierarchy of problems that people “should” be upset about or focus on, but I’m also thinking of the relativity of all of this.
(However, I’m hesitant to say this in contest with a hijabi, whose experience of being sexualized in real life for her hijab cannot be ignored or dismissed. They are experiences I have not shared, so I cannot speak to them.)
The medium matters, but so does the message. Consider both, and consider how we police the hell out of each other and what purpose that actually serves our Muslim community – whether it helps it and makes it stronger, or it drives people away and isolates others. These are larger questions we should grapple with, and whatever lessons we learn we should then be able to apply to situations like these when they come up.
It’s pretty clear from this post in general that I don’t care about what Noor did. Good or bad, right or wrong (as if those things exist), smart or dumb. I don’t care. But I’ve found over the past several years that the list of things I care about gets smaller and smaller. Part of the reason this blog and my twitter feed have “suffered” is because I no longer feel the need to add my opinion to every random issue that is being discussed in our community. I just don’t care. My work exposes me to the darkest aspects of humanity, and I’m supposed to be upset about a fully clothed Muslim woman sneering in Playboy and talking about the importance of an individual identity? Nah. Pass.
It’s this backlash that upsets me – the vitriol, the sexual slurs, the slut-shaming. What was her crime? Associating with a magazine known for objectifying women and distributing pornography in the very very very recent past. OMG, lock her up.
It’s the strength of the reaction against her that makes me feel incredibly sympathetic for her. And so I’ll promote her, because now I’m going to be petty and hope she becomes more and more visible and embarks on more of these antics that give the rest of us a chance to really think about how we respond, while some of us respond in a way that reveals our worst instincts.
Noor Tagouri, Libyan American journalist. Occasional provocateur.
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Also the worst part is that this situation wasn’t even remotely worth me spending hours writing this stupid rambling post and editing it, but we American Muslims/Muslims in general are just wild, frankly, and fall to pieces over inconsequential things. Ugh.
I’m always interested in what people are reading. I think it’s an incredibly revealing look at a person – their hopes, their values, their interests, their fears. Plus, I have eclectic interests and am always up for a good recommendation across genres.
I do my best not to cringe when someone says, Oh, I’m not really much of a reader. I hate that phrase, because even if you don’t sit down in your squashy armchair on a rainy night with your pipe and slowly, reflectively work your way through Walt Whitman’s work (Leaves of Grass, my ass, amirite?), I’m pretty sure you read.
Maybe you read a lot of blogs. Maybe you read a lot of articles. Maybe you read comic books, and for some reason you don’t count them as reading. I’m sure you read *something.* And if you don’t, well, okay. That’s your choice. (Although I personally can’t imagine why anyone would make that choice, but, hey, who cares what I think?)
Reading is the best, and I’m interested in what people like to read. Feel free to sound off in the comments with what you’ve got your nose in these days! Like I said, I’m always looking for recommendations!
Here are some of the books I’ve been reading recently:
What about you?
So it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I haven’t been around because I’ve been burned out on blogging, and very busy with work and life. But more and more people have been telling me over the past few months to get back to my blog, so I figured I could give it a shot.
I’m dealing with a little something right now, and figured I would share it. I’ve had some health issues recently – specifically, multiple trips to the ER with unexplained, off-the-pain-chart abdominal pain. No one could tell what it was. At first, it was deduced to be a bladder spasm, and I was put on medication to help with that. Then I had it again, and it was deemed to be an ovarian cyst and/or an ovarian torsion (it wasn’t a torsion). Then I had crippling pain while I was trying to drive to court, and later realized that I had been passing a kidney stone (my third), while driving, without any pain medication. So THAT was interesting.
But the pain stayed with me, and it was determined to be a cyst that is a bit larger than my left ovary. I’m fine with it all as long as I know what it is, you know? And what can be done about it. I’m very much of a get-in-there-and-fix-it kind of person, with anything.
Then my doctor said the C word. He said he was concerned, based on a few things but I wasn’t paying attention at that point, that it might be cancer, so he ordered the tests. That was the day before I left on a week-long trip to Michigan, so it’s fair to say it put a damper on things a bit.
I got a call almost a week later that it wasn’t, and that the growth (the cyst) was benign. But still getting bigger. So a surgery was scheduled.
I’ll be having surgery August 3, 2016, and will take about a week to recover while a pathologist takes a look at the stupid thing and determines conclusively the cancer question, why it grew so big, etc. etc.
So that’s what’s been going on. I’m pretty nervous, which is hard for me to admit, because I’ve never had surgery before. But whatever. I’ve got a few surgeon friends, and some doctor friends, and they said that it was a fairly common procedure because so many women get cysts – although most of these cysts go away on their own, even if they grow to the size of a grapefruit.
The issue is, during the surgery, if it’s determined that the cyst is too entangled with the ovary, I’ll lose the left ovary.
Now, practically speaking, I don’t really care about that. Conceptually, I am struggling with it. My doctor obviously doesn’t want me to lose the ovary, because he says I’m still young, and I may want to have children, and if I develop autonomous cysts on the right ovary, then I may have to lose that, too. So he’s assured me over and over that he will do everything to spare the ovary if he can.
Again, on a practical level, I’m cool with it.
Even if I lose an ovary, so what? I have another one. And I don’t anticipate that losing it will change my life much.
Plus, thinking forward (and perhaps over-thinking it), I don’t really want kids, I can’t really imagine myself having kids, and, given my disastrous luck with men, frankly, I can’t really imagine a situation in which I’d have a partner and would be in a position to try to get pregnant. Plus, I don’t really like kids. I fake it just fine, and depending on their age I connect with them well enough, but, damn, I don’t go out of my way to spend time with children. Just not my scene. So if I lose my left ovary and this diminishes my chances of carrying a pregnancy to term, then, okay. It is what it is.
But here’s the thing – and I’ll let you guys in on a secret – I’m kind of a spiteful person.
Don’t you dare tell me I can’t do something. Because I’ll do it and stick it under your nose just so you’re well aware I went ahead and did it.
This has worked very well for me my entire life, mainly because the things I was told I “couldn’t” do were things I was discouraged from due to misogyny and other limiting social structures and beliefs. So when a bunch of people in my community told me I shouldn’t be a criminal defense attorney because it wasn’t “a good job for women,” or because “you’ll be defending guilty people and that’s forbidden by Islam” (this is horseshit, and super ironically, was said to me BY MY FORMER ISLAMIC STUDIES TEACHER, which made me severely question her credibility on anything having to do with religion), you can bet I worked incredibly hard to learn all I could about criminal law, which ultimately led me to my career as a criminal defense attorney.
And yeah, you can bet that at dinner parties, I say, “I’m a criminal defense attorney,” loud and proud, so that the older people can quietly disapprove while their daughters flock to me and ask me questions and start thinking that maybe they, too, can be defense attorneys (much to their parents’ horror, and my glee).
So yeah, I can be a spiteful person, and I have been very blessed that it has worked out very well for me.
It’s the same with this situation. I don’t believe I want children, but don’t you dare tell me I can’t have them.
But I realize I’m getting ahead of myself. One of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned during my career is that it’s not a problem until it’s real. If I wasted my time worrying about every potential problem before it actually reared its ugly head, well, I’d never do anything else. It’s a good thing to anticipate a problem so you can plan what you’ll do and how you’ll fix it, but there’s no sense in fixating on that.
So the surgery will be August 3, 2016. Hopefully I’ll come out of it with both ovaries intact; if not, hey, that’s okay, too. I’ll need about a week of recovery, so instead of flitting about from one work/social engagement to another, I will be in bed. Which is gross, but whatever.
That puts me at August 10. The next day, August 11, is my 30th birthday. I don’t foresee any crazy celebrations. ;) I think I’ll do what I do every year: a quiet dinner after work, by myself, at my favorite restaurant, then home. It seems as though that’ll be the best option.
So. I feel gross sharing this much personal information in such a public place (as in, my blog that is attached to my actual name) and probably sharing it on FB so I don’t have to have the same conversation over and over again when people inevitably ask me why I wasn’t at this or that event, or why I can’t come to dinner, but … yeah. I feel gross sharing all this personal information, but it is what it is.
And who knows, maybe a week off will give me the incentive to blog more. (NGL, I’ll probably be writing like 20 motions in limine while I’m convalescing. No sense in wasting that much uninterrupted time.)
Good thoughts would be appreciated. Even though I’m probably being a big baby about all of this.
I’m back. I missed this thing. I missed doing business casual outfits like I used to back when I was in law school. I’m obviously an attorney now, so my focus has shifted a bit: I’m still into business casual, obviously, but I’m also into court wear. And the best thing is when you can easily switch between the two … and possibly switch the same outfit easily to something to wear out at night, too.
So the next few posts in this series will be outfits that are easily convertible: wear it to court, wear it around the (business casual) office, wear it out at night.
In order to keep it under $100, I’m often going to presume that you have a basic black blazer, a cardigan, things like that. I will of course be providing links to some of those basics, but I’m playing the $100 a little fast and loose, because a black blazer is something most of us already have in our closet (but if not, never fear! I’ll provide some).
Here we go.
I love, love, love dresses. I love them. I wear them with and without pantyhose, with stockings, with opaque tights, with leggings, whatever. I’m all about dresses. BECAUSE THEY AREN’T PANTS.
Here’s my thing: I fucking hate pants. Like, no, fuck pants. They are the worst. And if you roll out of bed, shower, and throw on a dress with a cardigan and some flats, you just managed to get dressed in about 2 minutes, and you look like you put way more thought into it than you did. And I’m all about looking like I put more thought into things than I actually did, because I don’t have all that many thoughts to spare, guys.
Oh, whatever, you know what I mean.
So here we go:
Isn’t this nuts? This whole outfit for under $50? Ok, bear with me while I explain this shit.
I found this dress on Amazon. I never would have thought to buy clothing on Amazon, but for the past two years, BobBlahBlawg has been randomly IMing me and being like, “What do you think of these shoes?” and he’ll send me Amazon links to men’s shoes. And I mean I can’t fault the guy; he’s got good taste. But because of that, I’ve kind of been able to wrap my mind around buying clothes on Amazon.
So the dress is from Amazon. It’s knee-length, and it’s not super booby, so it’ll be fine for court, especially under a blazer. It’s got a barred back, which you can’t see in this pic, but you can if you click on the link and go to Amazon.
It’s not indecent, but you’re not going to be walking into court like that unless you WANT people to think that you won that Motion to Dismiss for reasons other than your stellar legal arguments. (Is that slut-shamey? Help me out. I don’t want to be slut-shamey.)
Naturally it has to be paired with a blazer. I’m super biased here, because I LOVE cropped and/or fitted blazer. I’m a small girl: I’m only 5’1″ and if I wear normal boxy blazers I look like I’m swimming in fabric. I’ve already gained some weight since law school, and I do not need to look even fatter. I mean, it’s bad enough that I’ve been forced to realize that I can no longer eat pizza and ice cream for a literal week without gaining a literal pound. (UGH. WHY CRUEL WORLD WHY.)
So I go with fitted or cropped blazers. And I like this one. I’d totally wear it to court. I’d look great. (I have blue and silver blazers just like this, so it’s not a stretch – I really would wear this to court.) If you want a more normal blazer, consider this long-sleeve black blazer from JCPenney for $25, currently on sale. Everyone’s tastes are different, and everyone’s bodies are different. Cropped/fitted blazers might fit you in a way that doesn’t make you comfortable. So throw on a more traditional, looser blazer if that’s your scene.
The shoes are also from Amazon. I should just do Amazon-only outfits from now on because I swear they have everything. They tend to run a half size too small, according to the review, so I went with the price point for a 7.5 shoe, since I’m a 7. They’re just normal black pumps, and I threw them in kind of as an afterthought, because I figure most of us have black leather pumps in our closet anyway and don’t need to buy these.
Actually, I no longer have black leather heels. Mine were looking ROUGH so I got rid of them. I tend to walk hard and fast. My heel strikes the concrete pavement hard and I walk quickly, so the tips of my heel gets worn down quick. Sometimes I step in those stupid grates and nick the leather. I am a literal disaster. I am not one of those poised, graceful, gazelle-like creatures that can float down Dearborn in the Loop looking like she just stepped out of a White House Black Market catalog.
No. If you see me walking down Dearborn, I am striding purposely toward the Dirksen Federal Building, running through crosswalks with 3 seconds left on the orange timer, sucking down as much of my iced caramel coffee as I can before I dump it in one of the garbage cans outside the building and barrel through the revolving doors because those fuckers start on TIME.
I am hardly a vision of feminine loveliness when I’m walking down the street to get to court (or ever, really). So my heels get roughed up quick, which is why I wear flats everywhere, because fuck that.
Ugh, I need to buy black heels.
ANYWAY. This outfit pictured above will carry you through your morning court call, easy. But what about when you get back to the office?
Ditch the heels for these black flats, $12 at MyHabit.
They’re comfortable and easy on your feet, and you can flit about the office for the rest of the day in comfort. (The soles might be kind of thin, because they’re rather discounted in price, so be cautious.) If I’m wearing shoes at all in the office, I am wearing flats or sandals. (No, I’m serious, I’m often just not wearing shoes in the office because fuck shoes.)
Also, you don’t want to hang out in a blazer around the office, do you? Unless a client is coming in, I’m walking around in just my dress, to be honest. But when we do have a client meeting, I quickly grab either my blazer or a sweater that I keep at the office. That’s what you should do, too: ditch the blazer for this loose, flowy, open-front grey cardigan for $20.50 on, you guessed it, Amazon.
Look at how cute! I love flowy, draped cardigans. And cardigans in general. Like the blazer, it hides the slightly racy back very well, and you still look cute and professional and most importantly, comfortable.
But what happens when the clock hits 5 (or 6, or 7) and it’s time to get your ass on out of there and do something fun with your girlfriends (or, my favorite, by myself)? You want to go out to dinner or for drinks or coffee or whatever, and you don’t want to look like you just came from work … even though you just came from work.
Ditch the sweater and the blazer, forget the pumps and flats, and throw on something strappy, like these silver sandals I found at Nordstrom Rack for $10.
Yikes, you could put an eye out with those. But they’re so pretty and strappy. The strap on top would keep me from dangling them off my feet, which I love to do maybe as a nervous or bored tick, but whatever. Throw them on and go have fun.
And the best part?
Even if you buy every single thing I posted on here (but pick one blazer – either the fitted or the normal one, not both!) the total price is still at around $92. For everything! Court to office to a night out! YAY! I outdid myself! I love that feeling.
Anyway, there we have it: an outfit that can transition from court to the business casual office and to the bar or brewery or restaurant or lounge you find yourself at afterwards. Whatever, I’m not your mom, I don’t care what you do. Go stick your tongue down some random’s throat for all I care. (And have fun!)
Raymond and I were in his car, driving to a location of an alleged criminal offense so we could take a look around, get a sense of it. His satellite radio started playing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
Me: I love this song!
Ray: [kicks up the volume]
Me: [sings along]
two minutes pass…
Me: [still singing along until there’s a break in vocals]
Ray: OMG HOW LONG IS THIS SONG! I thought I’d put the volume up and let you enjoy it but I HAVE LIKE A MILLION THOUGHTS I WANT TO TALK ABOUT WITH YOU AND HE’S STILL SINGING???!?
Bahahaha. We just cracked up for the rest of the song.
On March 25, 2015, attorneys Raymond G. Wigell and Huma Rashid appeared at the Cook County Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, as attorneys of record for Mr. Mohammad Abdullah Saleem. With Mr. Saleem appeared approximately 30 supporters from the Muslim community, who sat through the day’s court appearance in a show of support for the respected and beloved Muslim cleric, or Imam.
Mr. Saleem was formally charged yesterday in an 8-count indictment regarding an incident of alleged sexual abuse. An indictment is not evidence; it is not a proof of anything in and of itself. An indictment is merely an allegation, an accusation. It was tendered (that is, given to Mr. Saleem’s attorneys) by the Honorable Judge James Karahalios.
Attorney Raymond Wigell acknowledged receipt of the Indictment, waived a formal reading of it in open court, and entered a plea of Not Guilty to all eight counts.
Mr. Saleem’s attorneys also filed a Motion for Discovery, requiring the State to tender all material it anticipates using against Mr. Saleem at trial. It is premature to discuss whether or not the case shall proceed to trial, or whether it will be a jury trial or a bench trial, but that discussion will become more important as the case matures.
After the filings were made and materials were tendered, Judge Karahalios set a date for Mr. Saleem, through his attorneys, to file thhe defendant’s Answer to Discovery, as well as any initial pre-trial motions. Pre-trial motions are requests to the Court to determine specifics prior to and in anticipation of trial.
The next court date will be May 19, 2015, at 9:00am, before Judge Karahalios in Room 107, at the Cook County Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
Once the court proceeding was concluded, Mr. Saleem left the courtroom, flanked by his sons and grandson, and followed closely by his two attorneys and many supporters. There were a handful of individuals who supported the accuser, and have been observed approaching Mr. Saleem’s supporters on this and previous occasions in the courthouse. They attempted, without success, to engage Mr. Saleem’s supporters in a heated discussion.
However, due to the maturity and respect of Mr. Saleem’s supporters for the criminal justice system, as well as the assistance of the Cook County Sheriff’s deputies in the Rolling Meadows courthouse, all involved exited in an orderly manner.
Attorneys Raymond Wigell and Huma Rashid spoke briefly with many members of the community (both supporters and the opposition) about various issues connected with the case, before excusing themselves to move forward and address various news outlets that had assembled in anticipation of Mr. Saleem’s plea of Not Guilty.
The attorneys spoke with George Houde of the Chicago Tribune, Barbara Vitello of the Chicago Daily Herald, and appeared in a televised news segment with Regina Waldroup of NBC 5 Chicago. Each of these outlets have been present for the previous court dates in this matter, and have put out numerous reports regarding this matter.
Mr. Saleem is set to appear in court next on May 19, 2015, at 9:00am before Judge Karahalios. Having entered a plea of not guilty to all counts in the Indictment, he is prepared to continue to fight the questionable allegations and restore his good name and continue his status as a respected and revered pillar in the Chicagoland Muslim community.
For previous coverage of Mr. Saleem’s matter, please see the links below:
Man, it’s been a while since I did one of these, huh? What can I say, I felt like getting back on the bandwagon. When I stopped with this series, it was because, frankly, I was burned out. Too much fashion, too many articles of clothing, too much pressure to feel like I was coming up with something new and original and entertaining, too much pretending I knew what I was talking about. :P
But whatever. I’m in the market for red flats, because the ones I have are looking a little shabby, and so I figured I’d whip up a quick post.
I love, love, love red flats because red is a total power color for me. I love to wear red lipstick (NYX soft matte lip cream in Monte Carlo, NARS velvet matte lip pencil in Dragon Girl and it’s far cheaper dupe with less staying power and more of a bleed, ELF’s matte lip pencil in Rich Red – these are some of my favorites). My only real handbag that I carry with any regularity is a bright red leather Coach bag that I absolutely adore and will carry to court even though I generally hate purses. I have a bunch of red sweaters that I always get compliments on, and I have red shoes that I love because they always add a nice pop of color to my outfits.
And I have to say, I especially like wearing greys/blacks/whites to court and then adding red shoes and a red bag. Yes, that’s kinda way too matchy-matchy, but it’s the only truly matchy-matchy thing I do, so I’m not all that concerned about it.
So today, I’m putting together a collection of red flats that are under $50. Some are extremely low end and some are higher end on sale, because I wanted to cover lots of different price points for you guys. I know the struggle: you’re either un or underemployed, you’re employed but trying to pay down loans, you’re employed but not making all that much yet, whatever.
But you’ve still got to look put together, so hopefully this helps a little bit.
These flats are just $10, a total steal, at Charlotte Russe. They’re probably not going to last you very long, but if you’re just looking for a pair of flats to wear around in relatively nice weather for, like, a year or so, these aren’t a bad option. The color thing says these are “Dark Red,” but, I don’t know, they look more like a red-orange or a coral red to me. It doesn’t really matter, because all those colors are pretty.
Another find from Charlotte Russe, just a little pricier than the previous one at about $14. It looks a little sturdier than the last pick – just looking at the sole and the reinforcement at the heel. Of course, they could still be very thin and offer very little support. It’s hard to tell. But as far as a pair of cheapie flats, this isn’t bad, either.
And the color seems a little more true-red than the last one.
The price is based on my size; it may vary slightly if you pick something other than a size 7. I liked the oxford style of these, and actually have something very similar in a dusty tan color.
…Nah, I’m TOTALLY fucking with you guys.
Don’t buy these.
Don’t ever buy anything that looks like this.
If you’re into the two-piece looks, these are pretty adorable. They’re very summery, and even though they’re more pink than red, I threw them in because why not. I could totally see slipping these on with a summer dress and a pretty hat.
If I wore hats.
Which I do not.
I look atrocious in hats.
Langley Loafer – $32.13
For something a little more conservative, these are a good pick. The gold chain on the top is purely a matter of taste: I’m not a huge fan but I have several girlfriends who rock this style.
But then, I kind of hate yellow gold in general. Probably because I have so much of it – all gifted down from my grandmothers and mother because yellow gold is a huge thing for South Asian women. And I’m just like, eh.
BobBlahBlawg gets so mad at me because he’s a white boy and yellow gold washes him out and he’s like YOU ARE THE PERFECT SKIN COLOR FOR YELLOW GOLD AND YOU WON’T WEAR HIM but fuck that guy what does he know amirite.
These are from Neiman Marcus, and I love the rich red color. I’m not big on the quilted look – I don’t know, quilted shoes are always very Margaret Thatcher to me (did she ever even wear quilted shoes? I’m probably making that up but whatever, Margaret Thatcher sucks). I tend to avoid quilted things – what is Karl Lagerfeld thinking with all those Chanel quilted bags he’s been churning out? – but a lot of people really like them. And I’m all about giving people options, even if I’m not particularly wild about the item.
These Liz Claiborne flats are faux-leather with a rubber sole, and feature some hardware that reminds me of Tory Burch flats. They look a little sporty to me – is that crazy? But those wide grooves in the rubber sole are always something I associate with a sportier look.
Still, they’re on sale at JCPenny’s for $42, so that’s not bad.
(Although Liz Claiborne is still a brand I associate with my mother’s generation, despite the way they’ve been busting their asses trying to rebrand. Sorry, Liz C.!)
Okay, so it’s technically over $50, but I’m including it anyway. Unless it’s $51, it doesn’t count! Okay, okay.
I’m a big fan of Anne Klein, because of the quality. Anne Klein pieces are well done and durable, and last for quite a while. I had a pair of black leather pumps that I wore frequently from AK, and other clothing items as well. So I’m a fan.
These penny loafers are super cute if you’re into penny loafers. TBH, I’m not wild about penny loafers in general, but if I was, I’d wear these.
Basically half my closet comes from ModCloth, and if I had more disposable income (ie, no student loans), my ENTIRE closet would come from ModCloth. Everything they have is super adorable (okay, some of it is ridiculous – why would I want a dress with cat faces literally all over it?), and these shoes are no exception. I love the color, which is kind of close to the marsala color that is the Pantone color of the year for 2015, if you care about that sort of thing (I don’t – I like the colors I like no matter what year it is). I bet they’re super comfortable, too.
And there we have a few red flats that won’t break the bank, as they all come in under $50, except for that one that costs $0.36 more. (I KNOW OKAY STOP REMINDING ME.)
The bad thing is, I still haven’t found red flats that I want to buy. :| I know. I spent a whole post babbling on about shoes, and I haven’t found anything that I myself would buy. Maybe it’s just my mood. I despise shopping, as most of my longtime readers know, and I have to be in the mood (ie, determined and fed up) to buy something. And when I do, I normally log onto a certain site, or walk into a certain store, head right to where the shoe is, and get it and get out.
Ugh, I hate shopping so much.
And I mean that literally: I have massive student loans. I was very lucky and paid about $2,000 total for my undergrad tuition (not including books, which I tried to buy cheaply online, and other incidentals, so the total was probably around $3500 with all those things considered), so I had no loans from that period in my life. Law school was another story.
I went into it like many law students: without the best understanding of how student loans would impact my future. All I knew was that I wanted to go to law school, and this was a necessary evil.
I am occasionally asked if I regret taking out as much money as I took out for law school. I always answer no. I wanted to go to law school and be an attorney, and in my first year, I realized that I really wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. And I got to to do that. I love what I do (minus the criminal appeals, which make me want to kill myself and have sucked literally all the joy out of my life), so how could I regret the loans that got me here?
So I don’t.
I hate them, and yearn for the day when they’re off my back, and I think it’s criminal that banks get to borrow at like 1% interest from the government but students borrow at like 7% (which is my rate, which sucks but whatever), but I still don’t regret them. They have changed my life, and will continue to do so, but I can’t regret them.
Like many law grads, I have a student loan debt in the six figures. And I have to deal with it, so I am.
How? Here’s how.
After law school, I used the deferrment because I was unemployed. I was unemployed for a while, so I used another deferrment that was offered under the 2008 (I think?) Obama student loan legislation. Thank goodness for that. I had some savings, so I just chipped away at the interest, but those payments were few and far between.
Then I had kind of a mini breakdown and broke with reality. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.
I stuck my head in the sand about my loans. I decided that I just wasn’t going to think about them … and maybe they’d go away. That’s not how it works, obviously, but the anxiety about the six figures hanging over my head became too much. And I just ignored it.
I didn’t make any payments. When I got letters in the mail, I threw them away sight unseen. When I started getting calls from my loan provider, I let them go to voicemail while I internally panicked. This happened for about 3 months. The anxiety about my loans was crippling, and I just couldn’t face those calls, or face the fact that I had these huge loans.
I know, a total weenie reaction. But that’s where I was with it.
Finally, one day, I was walking out of a cute Naperville boutique having just bought a birthday gift for my best friend. I was feeling pretty good. And right as I stepped outside, I got a call from my loan provider.
And for whatever reason, I picked it up. I decided to nut up and accept the call. It was a good thing I did, because the automated recording was a new one: it was warning me about the prospect of default.
Now let me tell you, even though I was only at the 120 day mark, and not yet halfway to the 270 day mark that triggers default and fucks up your credit rating and all that, that word caused me even greater panic and anxiety than the loans themselves.
So I went home, pulled out my checkbook so I had my account number handy, and called the loan provider back. I spoke to a very nice representative, who informed me that I owed like $4,000 or something – just in interest. I don’t know if that number is right. It might have been lower. Let’s say it’s right.
Now, I had more than triple that in my savings account alone at that point, so it didn’t trouble me. The idea of getting that number to 0 was very attractive. I still remember how surprised the representative was when I asked, “Can I pay that entire balance off right now?”
I gave her my account number and it was taken care of. And I decided that I was going to face my loans head on and make every effort I could to pay them down.
I logged onto my loan provider’s site and created an account. I looked at my balance and looked at my next due date a month out.
Now, I’m luckier than most, even with these huge loans. I live at home (which is basically cultural – I can move out, and I want to, but at this point since my parents are so resistant to it, I’m just not willing to hurt them by leaving although I will be leaving in the not too distant future), so I have fewer bills than most. I basically just have my car bill (which is hefty, because I have a wonderful car, basically my dream car, and that’s fine, because I drive so much and I love it and it’s comfortable and it’s an expense I’m willing to bear and it’ll be paid off in less than a year, anyway), and my loans, and slightly more discretionary things like food and clothing and all that normal stuff.
So a huge chunk of my paycheck isn’t going toward rent. At that point, I was basically socking away most of my pay and putting some in my Roth IRA.
Two weeks later I got another paycheck, and dropped another two thousand on my loans. I felt fantastic.
According to the website, I was paid off for about three months. It was a great feeling, and I chased it. I decided I’d make regular payments toward my loans, and I did that.
Whenever I could, I made payments toward my loans. In about two months, that due date for the next payment was six months off, which meant I was applying more money toward my principle.
When I started, I think my total was $117,000, but that included the interest that had built up. Today, it is $110,000. In another year, if I keep this up, it’ll be in the five figures. Which will be a huge accomplishment.
At that time, though, I was still very disorganized with my payments. I knew how much I had to pay off, I knew how much I was paying, I knew how much I had coming in, I kenw how much I had in savings, but somehow it wasn’t all connected.
I did not want to be paying more toward my loans and my discretionary bills than I had coming in. I had a very comfortable savings cushion, but I didn’t want to deplete it too fast without realizing it. So I started looking for help.
I started with Mint. Everyone raves about it, so I thought I should look into it. I linked all my accounts, even my little PayPal that collects a small amount each month from the pay-by-month advertisers on my blog. (If you want to advertise with a text link, contact me!) And then I looked at the interface. It gave me lots of great ways to track stuff, and an app, but …
This is embarrassing, so I’m just going to say it: it was too complicated for me. I didn’t want to spend that much time tracking my expenses. I wanted to be parked/stopped in the drive-thru, waiting for them to hand me my card back, and be able to enter the $1.89 I spent on coffee into my phone while I did so. Mint was just too much for me.
Then I looked into apps that were specifically geared toward people in debt. I heard of Level and signed up, but didn’t end up fully investigating it and using it. This was probably because I was burned out on all the different services I was researching and all the finance articles and books I was reading. So that’s unfortunate, but not in the long run, since I ended up finding something I really liked. I have a friend that really likes Level, and he swears by it, so if you’re looking around, you may really like Level.
I then saw a Facebook add for Ready For Zero. Isn’t that a great name? Also, those FB algorithms figure out everything. My FB ads changed based on my browser history. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trolling for crazy fetish porn? I don’t know. Anyway, I signed up for Ready for Zero and started loading my accounts and my student loan into it. The weird thing was, my loans are consolidated, but RFZ read them as unconsolidated, so it separated them out. Which was weird. And then it encouraged me to pay off the lower interest one first? But they both have the same interest rate, because they’re one loan? So, whatever.
Still, I loved the model for RFZ. It tracked how much money you put into your bank accounts, and then sent you helpful emails like, if you put $100 of that toward your loan balance right now, you’ll pay off your loan by such and such date. If you use $500, it’ll be such and such date. And I’m great with dates and numbers, so that was really attractive.
It also had a built in loan calculator, which was my main reason for going for it. The bad thing was, RFZ only lets you set like $1650 as your minimum monthly payment for the loan calculator to work, and that’s what your little “put this much toward your loan” alerts are based on.
Well, I was NOT able to have $1650 be my monthly minimum payment at that point, which rendered the app basically useless. I’m still signed up, but I delete those emails unread whenever I get them. I really should unsubscribe.
I tried a bunch of little budgeting apps that I can’t remember, too, but deleted most of them pretty quickly. They were just too complicated, or they didn’t let me do what I wanted to do. It was a frustrating journey, but ultimately, I figured out a way that worked.
I’ve divided it up into some categories so it’s easier to follow:
The Loan and Loan Repayment Calculation Aspect:
I found an online loan calculator, and also this one, that was flexible enough to not care too much about what the “official” monthly payment was, but more about how much I was putting toward my loans. When I plugged in everything – my total loan amount of like $117,000, the interest rate of 7.35%, how much I was putting toward it, which are all old figures now – the result was encouraging in terms of how many years it would take to pay off and how much would go toward interest.
If I paid only the minimum payments, I would pay out over the next 22 years, and pay more than my initial loan amount in interest alone. Even though the upside was that at the end of the loan repayment period of 25 years (I think?) I wouldn’t owe anythign and wouldn’t be hit with a tax bill. Although maybe my loan repayment at that time was at 10 years? 15 years? I don’t know. If it was either of those, I’d obviously be hit with a tax bill for the unpaid “forgiven” amount, which is such balls. But whatever. Still, that was UNACCEPTABLE.
Given how much money I was putting toward my loans, less than half of my initial loan amount would be paid in interest. So that was good, but still not good enough.
So that was the loan payback calculation stuff itself, which is different from the personal finance end of it. I researched what I could do to affect the repayment part of it. I realized that my loan provider offered a markdown of 0.25% of the interest rate if I signed up for automatic withdrawal every month. I called them up to confirm that I could do automatic withdrawal even if I was paid up for about a year, which some loan providers don’t let you do, and they confirmed I could. So I immediately entered my checking account information and took advantage of my new 7% interest rate. It’s still terrible, but better than it used to be.
Now, every 25th, $828.00 is automatically withdrawn. I plan for it in advance and haven’t even remotely had a problem with that. (My bank account is kind of dumb, in that I always have to have $1500 in it, so that’s the only problem that could ever come up, but it never once has, so that’s good.)
Another option is transferring it to another provider, which might offer a lower rate. I admit, I’m still researching this, because if I want to do it, I want it to be the right choice and the best option. I know that every day I don’t, I’m paying more in interest, so this is something I’m going to have to put closer to the top of my priority list.
I always plan for the $828, so I don’t even consider that anymore. As soon as it’s in, it’s gone. What I focus on is what extra money I’m putting toward my loans. Since I got my interest rate lower, I turned toward the personal finance aspect of it.
Increasing And/Or Supplementing Income:
The first part of this two-prong approach was obviously increasing my income. Easier said than done, as I’m sure most of you know. But not impossible. Far from it, actually.
I said before that I was disorganized about how much extra money I was putting toward my loans. That had to change if I was going to make some headway on this.
Bottom line, no pun intended: I needed more money.
I had a steady paycheck from work, which was excellent. I was reimbursed for healthcare, so that was cool. I don’t have a phone bill, since my boss pays for that as well. (See what I said about being lucky enough to have limited bills?)
I also got mileage reimbursement for all the miles I drove to court. My boss offered to reimburse me for tolls, but that’s such a pain to document with this iPass bullshit that I just never took him up on it. Once all my ducks are even more in a row, I may look into that more seriously.
For now, I try to offset that amount. I used to pay between $120-$160 for tolls each month, which is RIDICULOUS. That’s because the route I take to work – really, the best way to actually get there without going on a tour of the Midwest) is the pits. The tolls are so fucking high, it’s LITERAL HIGHWAY ROBBERY.
My first epiphany was that if I used a non-toll route to get to a certain courthouse, I actually got there 10 minutes earlier, and paid nothing. So that led me to use (abuse?) the Avoid Tolls option in Google. By doing that to get to court, and occasionally taking the long way home from work (which is roughly the same mileage, so I’m not driving up my already insane amount on the odometer), I got the amount down to $4o-60 a month, which is pretty great.
Another thing I love: cash back awards. I had a Chase Sapphire account already, which gave me decent cash back that I had linked to my Amazon account. I had always kept only one credit card, but soon looked into getting another one with different cashback schedules. I settled on a Discover, and linked that to Amazon as well. I buy a ton of stuff on Amazon instead of going to the store, so it works well for me to have that cashback sent there. So getting another credit card was a good decision, especially since I have never carried a balance on any card ever, and always pay in full each month.
Swagbucks was another good deal, because every two months or so I get a $5 Amazon gift card. That’s not much, true, but it’s an extra $30 a month that I didn’t have before. It all kind of depends on what your shopping habits are.
I’m sure I’m a member of other rewards programs, but I can’t remember them at this point. So much of it depends on what kind of consumer you are, so the programs I use may not be applicable for you.
Another interesting thing I ended up taking advantage of were part-time, contract-based writing gigs on Craigslist. They’re few and far between, but once a week I spend a little bit of time checking the listings. The pay isn’t anything to write home about, but I love writing, and I do it really fast. So it works out, and it’s extra cash that can go toward my income without taking much away from the quality of my life.
I also take advantage of discount offers that come my way. I never used to care, but if I get a $20 gift certificate in the mail to one of my favorite restaurants, I’m an idiot for not using it. This also included signing up for the email lists of some of my favorite places. For example, RA Sushi sends out a $20 gift card during the month of your half-birthday, which is awesome. Little stuff like that.
If I had more free time, I might consider a part-time job. I know many young lawyers that do that. However, I have too much going on at work, and that’s just not something that I want to fit into my life. If I were more desperate, I might. I won’t lie, I’ve thought about it sometime. But I don’t want anything like that taking away from the quality of my lawyerly work, so it’s not going to happen. No disrespect to the folks, lawyers or otherwise, who have part time jobs to pay off their loans or other bills. (In fact, props.)
I also make some money from ad sales on my blog. I used to make way more from it, but extra money is extra money. It goes to my PayPal account, and is a nice little reserve for me when I’m buying random little things that I need for my sanity and happiness, and can pay with PayPal.
But you know what’s really made the biggest difference in my life, both good and bad?
Yup. I play the Budget Game. My friends mock me for it – and other friends are actually concerned about me because of it – but it’s working for me. And I’m always fine-tuning it, too.
The discussion above focused on apps and services I tried that just weren’t for me. I wanted a simple to use app that still gave me the flexibility to categorize my purchases the way I wanted, not in pre-determined categories, and without having to hunt for all the niche categories. I wanted a no-frills app that just kind of let me do my own thing.
And I found it with iSpending, and I want to show you why I think it’s so great. It’s an iPhone app, and I recommend the paid version, which is just a couple dollars and so worth it.
This is the home screen of the app, basically. I blurred out my money totals because that’s no one’s business. Basically, you put in all the income you have, without linking to any accounts, and then you track your expenses. It uses that colorful pie graph to show you the balance between your income and expenses, and in my case, the $338.74 is what I have left until my next paycheck. (I tend to do factor in my set amount bills early, and then sock away more toward my loans, and spend whatever is left very carefully so I can put some more toward my loans right before I deposit my next check. So that’s why the amount is always artificially low, because I plan ahead.)
So from this home screen, at a glance, I can tell that I have $338.74 to spend during the next 8 days, which is not even remotely a hardship. In fact, I can easily afford to put another $150 toward my loans right now, and still have more than enough to carry me through the next 8 days without breaking a sweat.
(In fact, I might just do that right now. That would be the Smart Adult thing to do.)
While this app calculates all your spending habits and your income in, expenses out, the home screen only shows that current calendar month, which I LOOOOOVE. I don’t want to see the last thirty days; I want to plan out the month. And this works great. It gives me the exact information I need without giving me too much.
If you want to add an expense or add money coming in, you press one of those two buttons and this comes up:
It’s so so so simple, and it fulfills my desire: to be able to add an expense while waiting for my coffee in a drive through. (Also I avoid buying coffee now, because it adds up. Instead, I invested in a great Contigo travel mug and now I just make tea in the morning, or wait until I get to the office to have some coffee.)
The category option isn’t a drop down menu. So I get to pick what I put in. To resist the temptation of getting too specific, I sat down with a piece of paper and tracked all my expenses on my Chase credit card, and decided which categories they fit into. I think I had 7-9 categories total. Specific enough to accurately describe my purchasing habits, but general enough to keep it all sensical. Only then did I start using this app to track stuff, according to those categories.
So here, you just enter the amount, a broad category, the date if it’s not contemporaneous, and in the Notes section you can put something as specific as you want. So I might put “Shopping” as the category and put “NARS Dragon Girl Lipstick” in the notes so I can see that I was actually splurging on makeup.
That leads me to the fact that no-frills apps are great, but I obviously need more information in order to budget and plan effectively. If you click Details on the home screen, you go to this page:
The green is the money coming in, which I blocked out. The black is money going out. Depending on how it all works, some purchases are repeated in both black and green. You can see that I counted the $35.38 as both an expense and income; that’s because that gas purchase will be reimbursed since it’s due to traveling to court. (I keep separate records on that so I’m not being reimbursed for more than the proper legal amount.) Also, if I’m paying for something using a cashback reward, or my PayPal money (which is automatic, and not my own money, but money from ads, etc), then I count the amount as an expense AND income, because it’s not going out of my paycheck but is money I already have sitting around.
If I wanted to click on Entertainment, it would tell me that I spent the $6.92 on books from Thriftbooks, because that was the information I put in the Notes section. This way, I have as much and as little information as I want at the time.
I have recommended this app to several friends who asked me about budgeting, so I figured I’d share it with you readers as well, in case you’re looking for something similar. iSpending is hands down the best app I’ve come across, and it really has helped me track my spending down to the cent.
And when it’s the 16th, and I’m depositing my next check, I can look at this app and see that I have $200 left over from the previous check that I haven’t spent. Then I can decide how much of that to put into my IRA or savings account or my loans. To be honest, since I have a comfortable savings account and small IRA going, I put most of my extra money toward my loans. So on the 16th, I could deposit my next check and also put $200 toward my loans. Yay?
Because I put every dollar I can toward my loans, and I have the automatic payment that I’ve already budgeted for in advance, I pay a nice, hefty amount toward my principle each month. And that’s all I care about. Because a lower principle means less interest being paid daily, and that is so important to me. I want to pay this off as quickly as possible and with as little interest out as possible.
There are still other things I can do – like investigate private lenders to see if I should make the switch, and other ways of increasing income, and obviously my tax refund will go to my loans – but for now, this is my strategy. And it’s working so far.
The goal of my budget game is to have broken even at the end of the month. I don’t want to spend more than I earn, and I want to be able to put almost every spare dollar toward my loans. I know I should be paying myself first, but I’m balancing that priority of saving with my loans. It’s a work in progress, figuring all that out.
I hope this very personal look into what I’m doing to attack a huge problem in my life (one that I don’t regret) has helped at least one of you. Do you think there’s anything else I should be doing? What has worked for you? What resources do you use?
Do you want to join up with me and overthrow this capitalist system and force a total wiping out of all debt and massive financial restructuring in this country? Wait ignore that last one, I’m totally not serious about it.
Drop me an email, if the comment forms are still hinky. You can do so in the sidebar – just submit a note and I’ll put the suggestions and resources together and post them, crediting you with the idea. Let me know!
Oh, and fuck the fuck off already, any member of a previous generation who only knows how to bitch about how Millenials are “so entitled” and so lazy and all that bullshit. Millenials are a highly skilled, very adaptable and versatile, well-informed, hardworking as fuck generation making the best of a crumbling economic and financial infrastructure put in place by fucking Baby Boomers who worked during the summer to afford an entire year of college because tuition was that low back then and money went so much farther and also didn’t have many of the bills we have today including data and cell phone bills because those things were literally nonexistent and still like to tear down Millenials. FUCK THE FUCK OFF, NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR WORTHLESS OPINIONS.