Ten Pointers for a Successful First Paper:
two pages minimum, double-spaced, 1” margins, 12-point font, all MLA formatting (use the guide!)
your topic is significant to you and could carry a meaning for many different readers
an effective title: sounds interesting and clearly indicates the subject of the essay
the introduction paragraph catches the reader’s attention with a vivid scene or introduces the subject clearly to the reader
body paragraphs are used carefully to divide scenes and transition from one point to the next
the order of events and details is purposeful and helps to develop your point or purpose
some parts of the narrative are “slowed down” or “zoomed in” to provide focus on important elements
some facts, details, and even people may have been omitted or skipped over in order to focus on the main point and purpose of the narrative
any person mentioned is briefly but effectively described or characterized in some way — no one is simply a name or a floating head
a separate conclusion paragraph ADDS some further meaning and new insight to the essay instead of only repeating points already made
Cut from the Same Cloth: Wearing Hijab in Houston, Post-Trump
Saadia FaruqiJul 3, 2017, 12:24
Sometimes a piece of fabric is just a piece of fabric. Not so the hijab, the head cover worn by many Muslim women like myself. The hijab is a conversation starter and a conversation killer. It is a way to make friends, but also to make enemies who glare at you from the other side of the bus or yell “Aren’t you hot in there?” at the beach. And sometimes it stands between a woman and her sandwich.
Not long ago, a trip to a Subway sandwich shop in northwest Houston almost turned into a theological debate. As I stood in line with my children, hungry and running late, the cashier held my receipt and asked, “Why do you wear that thing on your head?” For a moment I debated what to do, though he wasn’t the first stranger to ask me that question, nor will he be the last. I couldn’t shake my head and pretend not to speak English, because he’d already heard me order. I didn’t want to joke, “What, my sunglasses?” I looked at him again, and saw something in his eyes. Sincerity. Curiosity. I turned and looked at my 8-year-old daughter standing next to me, waiting for my response. It’s a question she’s asked many times, perhaps in a more sensitive way. But it’s a question on the minds of many, and sometimes I’m the only person within a 10-mile radius with any sort of answer.
The hijab — head scarf, veil, burqa — is one of the most visible forms of faith one could possibly have. Muslim women who choose to cover themselves are set apart by this simple act of religious observance, and for us, a piece of fabric is never just a piece of fabric. It is an expression of faith, a profession of modesty and decorum, and increasingly, a political statement. Since 9/11, the hijab has become an easy target for oppression. The news is full of proposed legislation against it, such as the headscarf ban in Germany and the burkini ban in France. Each terrorist attack in America results in hate crimes against Muslim women wearing the hijab, leading to a rise in self-defense classes for women in mosques and civic groups.
Houston is the most diverse metro area in the nation. There are more than 157,000 Muslims here, more than anywhere else in Texas. Still, worries about how people will perceive me are always at the back of my mind, and these fears have become only more pronounced after the election of President Trump. I feel more self-conscious in public because the dislike and suspicion toward me is more obvious. I feel more stares at my back, more grumblings around me when I stand in line at the grocery store. Thankfully, I haven’t been targeted by an attack, verbal or physical, but my life seems to be suspended in some sort of terrible anticipation. When will it happen? How? Will I be calm or scared? Will my children be with me, and how will I defend them?
All this seems too much to explain at Subway. There are other people waiting in line behind us, and the cashier is getting dirty looks. I smile graciously — or so I hope — and reply, “It’s for modesty” and hurry away. In the parking lot, my daughter looks at me disapprovingly. “I don’t think you did a good job back there, Amma,” she told me. “What does modesty even mean?”
It’s a valid question. I’m sure the Subway cashier didn’t understand me either. Frustrated, I sigh. An opportunity lost. I am a writer with a host of bylines on this very subject. I am a public speaker routinely invited to teach churches, synagogues, civic organizations and law enforcement about Islam. I should have done a better job. But to be honest, I am so tired of being the representative of more than a billion people. I just want to eat a sandwich in peace, go to the mall without being harassed, write about a completely unrelated topic without feeling guilty that I wasn’t using my time and skills to help people understand the hijab a little better.
My life seems to be suspended in some sort of terrible anticipation. When will it happen? How? Will I be calm or scared?
I wonder how the controversy around the hijab will affect my daughter when she is older. Will she decide to wear the hijab, or will she reject it as so many other women in my family have done? Will she be able to ignore the naysayers and angry looks on the street? She watches me wind the hijab around my head when we leave the house, shops with me for new colors and designs at Old Navy and Stein Mart. She asks questions similar to the ones my training audiences ask: Why do girls wear it, what’s the point of it, what does it say in the Quran? Anyone with an internet connection can answer those questions, but what she’s really asking for is my personal story.
My story is simple. I worked at a nonprofit about 13 years ago, and one day my supervisor stopped me in the middle of a conversation to ask, abruptly, “Why don’t you wear that thing I’ve seen other Muslim women wear?” I felt startled and unsure, just as I would at Subway a decade later. Why didn’t I wear that thing? What was holding me back; why couldn’t I commit to it when I had committed to the praying and fasting and everything else that makes me Muslim? I don’t remember what I replied to my supervisor, but on the way home that evening I stopped to buy a few headscarves to try on. It took a few more years until I wore it regularly, but that’s where it all began.
Not long ago, after I’d spent an hour volunteering at my daughter’s school, I waited in the pickup lane as usual. She sat down in a huff in the backseat and announced, “Can you please not volunteer at my school anymore? Everyone asks me questions about your clothes.” Ah, the worry apparent in her little voice. I could have been hurt or upset, but I understood her so completely. I took that opportunity to talk to her about the hijab in the larger context of being confident, as a woman and as an American, that we are free to wear what we want, even if it doesn’t make sense to her classmates. “The hijab trains us to forget about appearances, sweetheart,” I told her. “To stop looking at the outside and see into people’s hearts.” The radio was on, and she pretended to sing along, but I knew she was listening. Her eyes were fixed on mine in the rearview mirror.
Since then, I’ve thought about it more. I finally have an answer for that Subway cashier, my former boss and even my daughter. I wear the hijab not because it is easy but because it is difficult. I wear it with perseverance in 100-degree Houston weather, while hiking at Sam Houston National Forest with my family, and at a business dinner with my husband’s coworkers. I wore it with pride at my citizenship oath ceremony and with only slight trepidation when I trained thousands of Houston police officers. The hijab is a part of me, an expression of who I am and who I aspire to be, and hopefully my daughter will see that as she makes her own decision one day.
How #MeToo Taught Me I Can Never Be a Man
Since coming out in 1995, I’ve spoken to many audiences about being transgender in my role as an author and teacher. One common question on those occasions has always nagged at me: Given that people don’t tend to read me as transgender, why do I insist on being so publicly out? My answer has shifted over the years, but the recent focus on the sexual harassment and assault that women face has given me my clearest answer. It’s important that people know I grew up as a girl and young woman because my experiences in that gender identity have shaped and still shape who I am today: someone who is not and will never be comfortable being called or considering myself a man.
I only lived 17 years as a girl and a young woman, and I grew up in a safe environment: a small Maine town with loving parents who raised me to speak up and be self-empowered. Though these factors do not shield one from sexual assault — nothing truly does — I am fortunate not to have suffered such abuse.
But as I read the #MeToo entries on social media sites and news outlets, they cast me back to my adolescent years. At 11, 12, 13, I was just outgrowing the category of tomboy that had granted me some self-explanation, and had given me a little room to maneuver in my childhood. I was just beginning to come into a body that, more and more, felt inescapably like a woman’s.I remember that body; how every woman I saw reminded me: I would grow up to look like them. I dreaded that future. Even more, my body suddenly became subject to public commentary, as if it were on display for others to evaluate. I remember hearing, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d have bigger boobs than Ann,” from one boy at school, as if my being a tomboy had any correlation to how large my chest would get. “You should wear a bra,” I heard from a wide range of mothers and fathers of my friends. Eventually, I figured out a sort of proto-binder — at first a couple of undershirts, extra small, and later the kind of compression shirt worn when you’ve broken a rib — that I donned through the end of middle school and beyond.
When I went off to boarding school in ninth grade, it was an intense relief that most students didn’t go to the dances, where I’d learned in middle school how much boys liked to press up against any girl they could; I was delighted that many of the girls in my dorm preferred to work on their history papers or watch The Princess Bride on a Saturday night. But I was having a hard time with math that year, and I remember telling an older student that I’d made an appointment to meet with my teacher. “Who do you have?” she asked me. I told her my teacher’s name — let’s just call him Mr. P. “Don’t go by yourself,” she warned.
I enlisted another girl from my dorm, I’ll call her Donna, to come to tutoring with me, and the two of us sat side by side in the math classroom with Mr. P standing behind us. He put his hands on my shoulders and leaned his face between us as he commented on our work, occasionally touching Donna’s arm and hand as she wrote out her solutions. He patted our backs and squeezed our shoulders as he told us about quadratic equations. I remember the two of us scurrying back to the dorm that night, giggling and chattering: gross, weird, kind of nasty. We ran to the older girl, the one who had warned me about Mr. P, and she just rolled her eyes. “Come to me for help next time,” she said, and then named a few other teachers we shouldn’t go to alone.
And then there’s the very impersonal. The catcalls and jeers. The comments shouted from passing cars or out of dorm room windows. The men on buses and subway cars who sat down too close, who couldn’t seem to stay in their own seats or manage not to bump against me. There were so many, they all blur together. Sometimes I would jab back with an elbow. Sometimes I would cross to the other side of the street. Mostly, I walked quickly and tried to ignore it all.
This is incredibly mild. Milquetoast. I have had the easiest of times, both as a girl and as a boy. The experiences I have enumerated are barely enough to register on the Richter scale of harassment. And yet, these instances made some of the deepest impressions on me about what it means to be a girl and a woman in this world. This is what women are trained to expect as their due.
Now, I move through the world and pass as a man. I share offices and bus seats and locker rooms with men. I hear how men talk about women when they think there aren’t any women present. And I never feel more like a woman than when I am alone with men. If the #metoo movement has, hopefully, given women the inspiration and power to speak up about their experiences, then it has given me — a transgender guy — the inspiration and power to speak up to the men around me and say, I am not one of you. Though I might look like you, I refuse to talk like you. I refuse to think and act like you. I refuse to easily accept the privilege that calling myself a man might confer.
When I consider that oft-asked question that nags me — Why not just live as a man? — this is why not. I cannot and will not just live as a man because I have lived as a woman, in a body that vexed and confused me, in a body I neither wanted nor understood, a body that carried all the baggage that being perceived as a woman entails. Because of this, I understand that we have to keep talking about gender; we have to recognize what our insistence on upholding the gender binary does to people. Each of us — cisgender and transgender — has to understand that gender is one of the primary ways we structure power in our society, and that society continues to see women as less than men. Because of this, and my early life as a girl, I will never subsume my identity under the mantle of manhood. Call me transgender, or even a guy, but I am not and will never be a man.
Alex Myers is a writer, teacher, and speaker. A graduate of Phillips Exeter and Harvard, he was the first openly transgender student at both institutions. He teaches English at Phillips Exeter and is the author of Revolutionary (Simon & Schuster, 2014), a novel that tells the story of his ancestor, Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. Alex runs workshops and speaks at schools across the country on the topic of gender identity and supporting transgender students.
“The Struggle to Be an All American Girl” by Elizabeth Wong
originally published in the Los Angeles Times, 1980
(handout for Jeffries’ ENC 1101)
It’s still there, the Chinese school on Yale Street where my brother and I used to go. Despite the new coat of paint and the high wire fence, the school I knew 10 years ago remains remarkably, stoically the same.
Every day at 5 P.M., instead of playing with our fourth and fifth grade friends or sneaking out to the empty lot to hunt ghosts and animal bones, my brother and I had to go to Chinese school. No amount of kicking, screaming, or pleading could dissuade my mother, who was solidly determined to have us learn the language of our heritage.
Forcibly, she walked us the seven long, hilly blocks from our home to school, depositing our defiant tearful faces before the stern principal. My only memory of him is that he swayed on his heels like a palm tree, and he always clasped his impatient twitching hands behind his back. I recognized him as a repressed maniacal child killer, and knew that if we ever saw his hands we would be in big trouble.
We all sat in little chairs in an empty auditorium. The room smelled like Chinese medicine, an important faraway mustiness. Like ancient mothballs or dirty closets. I hated that smell. I favored crisp new scents. Like the soft French perfume that my American teacher wore in public school. There was a stage far to the right, flanked by an American flag and the flag of the Nationalist Republic of China, which was also red, white and blue but not as pretty.
Although the emphasis at the school was mainly language – speaking, reading, and writing – the lessons always began with an exercise in politeness. With the entrance of the teacher, the best student would tap a bell and everyone would get up, kowtow, and chant, “Sing san ho,” the phonetic for “How are you, teacher?”
Being ten years old, I had better things to learn than ideographs copied painstakingly in lines that ran right to left from the tip of a moc but, a real ink pen that had to be held in an awkward way if blotches were to be avoided. After all, I could do the multiplication tables, name the satellites of Mars, and write reports on Little Women and Black Beauty. Nancy Drew, my favorite book heroine, never spoke Chinese.
The language was a source of embarrassment. More times than not, I had tried to disassociate myself from the nagging loud voice that followed me wherever I wandered in the nearby American supermarket outside Chinatown. The voice belonged to my grandmother, a fragile woman in her seventies who could outshout the best of the street vendors. Her humor was raunchy, her Chinese rhythmless, patternless. It was quick, it was loud, and it was unbeautiful. It was not like the quiet, lilting romance of French or the gentle refinement of the American South. Chinese sounded pedestrian. Public.
In Chinatown, the comings and goings of hundreds of Chinese on their daily tasks sounded chaotic and frenzied. I did not want to be thought of as mad, as talking gibberish. When I spoke English, people nodded at me, smiled sweetly, and said encouraging words. Even the people in my culture would cluck and say that I would do well in life. “My, doesn’t she move her lips fast,” they would say, meaning that I would be able to keep up with the world outside Chinatown.
My brother was even more fanatical than I about speaking English. He was especially hard on my mother, criticizing her, often cruelly, for her pidgin speech—smatterings of Chinese scattered like chop suey in her conversation. “It’s not ‘what it is, ‘Mom,” he would say in exasperation. “It is ‘What is it, what is it, what is it!” Sometimes Mom might leave out an occasional “the” or “a” or perhaps a verb of being. He would stop her in mid-sentence: “Say it again, Mom. Say it right.” When he tripped over his own tongue, he’d blame it on her. “See, Mom, it is all your fault. You set a bad example.”
What infuriated my mother was when my brother cornered her on her consonants, especially “r.” My father had played a cruel joke on Mom by assigning her an American name that her tongue would not allow her to say. No matter how hard she tried, “Ruth” always ended up “Luth” or “Roof.”
After two years of writing with a moc but and reciting words with multiples of meanings, I finally was granted a cultural divorce. I was permitted to stop Chinese school. I thought of myself as multicultural. I preferred tacos to egg rolls; I enjoyed Cinco de Mayo more than Chinese New Year.
At last I was one of you; I was not one of them. Sadly, I still am.
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