By GIRLWITHABOOK Co-Founders Olivia Curl and Lena Shareef
For this installment of Looking at US GIRLWITHABOOK co-founders Olivia Curl and Lena Shareef sat down with GIRLWITHABOOK's summer intern and creator of Looking at US, Rosie Vita. A rising senior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, Rosie is a French and Francophone Studies major, who is active on campus in her sorority and faith group. We are both sad to see Rosie leave the GIRLWITHABOOK team as she takes on her final year of college, and excited to see where life takes her next!
OC: Tell us your name, your age, and where you’re from.
RV: Rosie Vita, 21, from Alexandria, Virginia.
OC: Can you tell us about your background, your family?
RV: My mom is English, moved here in her 20s because of a previous marriage, and has lived here on and off before she met my dad. Then she met my dad and decided to stay here. My dad is from Pittsburgh, and moved to the DC area because of his job. My dad’s family is very conservative. I love my family; I’m very close to my grandparents, despite not sharing the same viewpoints as them. I’ve never seen that [political views] as a thing to get between us. It’s so trivial in a lot of ways—we’re family. My dad is conservative, but having me as a daughter, being very feminist from a young age, he kind of can’t be anything but a feminist. I love that he is conservative, because it has shaped my ability to question beliefs, and my own beliefs. Growing up I would always say, “Oh yeah, I’m a Republican, just like my dad.” In 8th grade Civics we had to take a quiz—it was the year of Obama’s first election—and I remember having to take this quiz in class that questioned us on our views of specific issues and then based on our answers told us what party we align with. And my results said that I was a Democrat. But I was like, “But I’m a Republican!” Clearly, I really had no concept of what a Republican actually fully was.
He [my dad] comes from a very Catholic family, Italian family. He left the faith as soon as he graduated high school and moved out. I’m not Catholic, but [my extended family] all are. My mom grew up in Northern England, in Leeds, which is in Yorkshire. She grew up very blue-collar. She was raised by a single mom who had three kids in the city, in England post-WWII. The late 1950s and 60s, my mom’s childhood, were rough. They were still on rations when my mom was a little kid. It’s hard to believe.
LS: I feel like we forget how WWII wasn’t that long ago.
RV: Yeah, and I also think that in America we don’t see the impact as much as places that were really hit by it, especially Britain. It just messed things up so much.
So yes, my mom has two brothers. My mom was raised in a family, ironically full of very strong women, but strong women who [disliked] other women. It’s really interesting when my mom is with her other female cousins, because they all had the same childhood, where their mother didn’t like them because they were girls. Even though they were such strong women themselves, they blatantly valued the boys way more. Despite that, my mom has done way more with her life than either of her brothers. She went to nursing school, got a college degree, left England, is now very comfortably middle class. I am very proud of my mom. She is the definition of a strong woman to me. She’s got the British hardiness. I look up to her a lot, and my dad. I’m very close with both of them.
I grew up in a Christian household, because my mom is religious and my dad came back to the faith because of her. I grew up in a local church and spent a lot of time there. My church is very special; it’s very progressive, which is something I didn’t realize that other churches weren’t like. I didn’t get until high school, even college, that churches repress people. I thought that was a thing of history. Then I met oppressive Christians and churches, and realized they do exist. That just wasn’t my experience growing up. I was very lucky. I had great role models there. It continues to be something very important in my life.
Growing up in northern Virginia, outside of DC, I grew up expecting every kid to have a political opinion by the age of eight. College was so enlightening for me, because I realized that people aren’t always as aware or care that much. When you live around here, you’re surrounded by it all the time. Everyone’s parents work for the government, everyone is involved in that in some way, and have very strong beliefs. I was aware that Catholics didn’t support gay marriage, but I didn’t realize that many other churches didn’t support it either. I didn’t realize that being a feminist was often considered a bad thing until college. I was calling myself a feminist from the earliest time I knew the word, like early elementary school. I had never associated it with being a negative, because I had never experienced that until college. Every history project I did in late elementary school through middle school was on a different suffragette. Every single one! I was very unaware of life outside of NoVa (Northern Virginia). Then I met friends in college, from Virginia Beach, which is a big city, but also very military. But [my friends] told me that they had to be, like, “closet feminists” in high school, that they couldn’t outwardly express it without being bullied or teased. Even with my Republican family, I would talk about feminism around them, and they would only be very supportive. I was very lucky, and everyone was always very supportive of my beliefs. That’s something my dad and I really share: sometimes I get a little aggressive and shout him down, but usually we’re able to have great conversations…I never felt patronized by my parents, and I always felt very supported and that I had valid beliefs, even as a little girl. Now I feel very comfortable expressing what I think about things. I don’t worry about a guy I’m interested in “finding out” that I’m a feminist. Find out? He should assume! I didn’t really realize that kind of privilege until college, when I met people who hadn’t experienced that and I realized how lucky I was. There’s the obvious privilege of being white, and growing up in a wealthy area. That’s an obvious privilege that you can realize just from driving through different neighborhoods. And I went to a very diverse high school, and even though I came from the wealthy zip code, many of the other kids were not. I was aware of things like that. But I wasn’t aware of how lucky and privileged I was to be able to express myself and express my opinions and not be shamed for them. I didn’t realize that still happened in America, in communities similar to mine. I didn’t realize it happened to other 18-year-old white girls from Christian households. Very ignorant, but ignorance is bliss.
LS: What are you studying in college?
RV: I’m majoring in French & Francophone Studies, and minoring in marketing.
LS: What do you want to be when you grow up?
RV: I don’t know. Well, I do know, but not really, you know?
RV: I’ve always seen myself as being successful. When I was a little kid, I was just like, “I want to make a lot of money.” And my parents would be like, “What about what makes you happy?” And I’d be like “Money makes me happy!” I love money. I did an unpaid internship for you guys—shows how much I love the cause, because I love money!
I’m very much like my dad in that we make a lot of our life decisions based on financial security. When I was in early high school I said I wanted to be a lawyer, and my dad said that people weren’t getting jobs right out of law school, so I was like “scratch that!”
That’s why I decided to go into business. I knew in high school that business was a good route to go down, and that I could get a job doing it. Then I learned about marketing, and it sounded like something I could do. And as I learned more about it and actually started studying it, I found that I really enjoy it.
But I don’t really know. Through my classes I do really enjoy business and making decisions based on fact and data. Even though I’m not great at compiling the data, but using it to make decisions. And with marketing there’s still a creative side to it. But it’s the analytics, and what can we do to increase engagement, or reach this audience. And just the way you engage those audiences I find really interesting. So I think I want to do something within that. I don’t know what, exactly. Probably whatever I get hired doing—beggars can’t be choosers.
I want to be successful, I want to be happy, I want to live in a big city. That’s more of what I can say that I want. I know geographically where I want to be—I want to be in New York or Boston. And I know I want a 9-5 job, and I want to do something where I have creative [input], get to make decisions, and work with people. Beyond that I don’t really know.
LS: If money weren’t a factor, would you still want to do that? Like if you were a billionaire?
RV: I would not work, and I would spend my time being a travel blogger and traveling the world. I’ve actually planned this out, in case I ever do become a billionaire. I will have a penthouse or a house or something in every major European city, and just spend my time going between them. But also have a country home, and a beachside home, and a villa in Tuscany. I mean, c’mon. Maybe own a vineyard. But also have a cheese shop right next door. And bakers just making baguettes constantly.
LS: After college, do you have plans for further education?
RV: Next fall, hopefully, so long as I get in, I’ll be in a program to teach English in France for eight months. It’s mainly an excuse to live and be immersed in the language for longer, because…I’ve always wanted to be bilingual. That’s just always been something I’ve wanted. That has nothing to do with money! People are like, “What’s your passion?” And I would say “Becoming bilingual.” That’s why I’m a French major. I like learning about the cultures and stuff, but I love going to class everyday and just speaking French. That is just so fun. And studying abroad was the best experience of my life. Once I was there and found out about this opportunity [to teach] I was like, sign me up! I’m ready! I’m really excited for that. Next summer, I’ll probably try to find another internship in marketing to get more experience, and then go to France. Then, I don’t know. I have until April 2018 figured out, and then beyond that, who knows? Hopefully get hired by someone, hopefully move to a big city, and hopefully be happy and healthy.
OC: Is education important to you, and if so, why?
RV: Yeah, it’s important to me. I think that education has been where I’ve shined. That’s what I’m good [at]. Never a star athlete, although I did sports all growing up, not the most musically inclined even though I did band. I was the kid that was reading very early on in kindergarten, and from there that’s what I’ve been good at. College has been really good for knocking me down a peg, being surrounded by lots of other really smart kids. You’re not as smart as you think you are. That’s been really good, because when you excel…growing up, you think you can do anything. And yes you can, kind of, but it’s also good to realize you’re not as good as you think you are.
LS: It’s good to know you’re not superior to anyone else.
RV: Yes, which I think sometimes I definitely thought, because I was smart, and people told me I was smart. Also, I love learning. I love learning French, and reading, and I love having discussions. Class is a really great facilitator for that, because I love talking about some book I read in French, that really has no meaning outside of that classroom, yet I love spending an hour and a half talking about it. I love school for that, and getting to explore different ideas and viewpoints.
But also, I definitely have senioritis already, which is bad because [senior year] hasn’t even started yet, but I definitely feel ready to move on. I’m ready to go out in the workforce—I feel ready for that. Another year for school and the endless studying—I’m getting ready for that part to end. Never stop learning, you’re a lifelong learner, but definitely ready for that to end. Grad school is not something I really see in my future—unless someone else pays for it. If someone wants to send me to an MBA program, that’s great. Of course I’m only 21, so who knows, but really no more right now.
OC: Do you think it’s going to be hard, even though you have senioritis, to transition out of getting so much of your positive feedback from school to not being in school?
RV: That’s a hard question, I don’t know! I think that there are other ways, and I’ve seen this just in jobs I’ve had, like this, that there are other ways that you can find validation through other work.
…School, especially college, is a very very selfish time. All of your goals center completely on you. I’m studying for this exam so I can do well on it so that I can get a good GPA, etc. etc. You’re not really serving anyone, at least in the moment. Obviously you’re working toward getting a good degree and going out to get a good job. But I’m at the point where I’m actually ready to get a job and use my degree to do something in the world. School is a great way to get there, and the validation is really nice, but also I’m tired of it all being about me, in a way. I want what I’m working towards to be helping other people. That’s why I really enjoyed [this internship], because doing social media stuff or writing a blog post was not because I’m going to get a good grade on it, it’s because it’s actually serving a purpose, and I really like that, and I’m excited for it to come next year. To be working toward a more communal goal, because school isn’t that. It’s all about you, and you’re doing it completely for yourself. I mean, my parents are proud of me, and I’m sure they get joy when I get a good grade, but it’s a very selfish validation. I think I might even get more validation from working, because it’s a more communal thing, and I really like that.
LS: What do you think is the most important thing a woman can do in her life?
RV: I think it’s the same as any person. It’s contributing to society.
There’s the basic thing: be happy. But I think it goes beyond that, to contributing good in the world. But I don’t think there’s one way to measure that. Maybe not actively contributing bad things in the world. “Good” is such an indefinable word, but being a good person, whatever that may mean. I don’t know, that’s a hard question to answer.
I don’t think it’s [only] being a mother, or [only] being a wife. There are so many people in the world, with so many paths, so how do you find what’s the most important thing they can contribute? I think it very much varies. I think the most important thing I can contribute is being a good person. And I may have a measurement of “good” that may not match up with what other peoples’ definition of “good” is. [I’m] trying to keep other people in mind when I do things. If more people did that, the world would be a better place.
OC: What are you most afraid of?
RV: Settling, for a lot of things. Settling for a job I don’t want, settling in a place I don’t want to live. I would say marriage, but that’s not really something I think about that much. So yeah, but…
LS: You’re afraid of getting married?
RV: I don’t know if I want to. So I don’t know if I want to add that in as something I’m afraid of because it’s not something I’m sure I want…It’s not something I actively want.
So settling, not taking risks. The idea of going to France actually does scare me in a lot of ways, and I don’t really know what to expect, and I’m putting off getting a job, which is what everyone else does after college. So putting that off for a year is scary, but I’m more afraid of the feeling I’d have if I didn’t do it, of regret. And being 80 years old and saying I wish I’d gone to France when I was 22. So I think that’s what I’m afraid of…looking back and thinking that I didn’t do what I wanted to do because I was afraid of doing it.
Also, I really hate spiders.
LS: What is the hardest part about being a girl?
RV: I think it depends on where you are. I don’t face the same challenges that a girl in Nepal faces, so it depends on where you are as a girl. I can speak more from my personal experiences. I think the view of women as unable to achieve the same thing as men. That thought is so destructive, because it leads to the other things. It’s what keeps girls out of school, but it also is so destructive in the mind of a girl, that she is not worth more. It is the catalyst for everyone else, this thought or belief that women are just not equal. I think that’s the hardest thing. And I think it exhibits itself in many ways. It comes out in sexual harassment, sexual assault, and girls not speaking up in class, girls not going to school, or girls allowing themselves to be in abusive relationships. It manifests in many different ways, but I think that thought is very destructive, and is the hardest thing that women face.
OC: I’d like to know Rosie’s thoughts on gender roles.
LS: Yeah, what are your thoughts on gender roles?
RV: I believe to my core that men and women are equal, and I think that men and women should be able to express themselves however they want to. But I don’t like some of the rhetoric I’ve seen, mainly about women, that when a woman is more feminine, or maybe does play into traditional gender roles, is looked down on. That really bothers me, especially as a girl who is a self-identified girly-girl. I’ve had people be like, “How can you wear makeup and still be a feminist?” Because I like it? I went through a period of my life where I rejected things I like because, “I’m a feminist, I can’t like those things!” I made myself be a tomboy for so long in elementary school, in middle school, really forced it, because I thought this is what I have to be [in order] to be a successful woman. I have to reject the color pink, and I have to reject wanting to make myself look nice, in the way I like to look nice. It’s just another way of women tearing down other women, because it’s always women who are poking holes in it! Men don’t give a crap, usually. It’s just women tearing down other women. So what? I have a very feminine name, which I love; I like very stereotypically feminine things. But I still firmly believe in equality. I don’t like the assumption, because I think it comes from the assumption, that femininity is weak. And again, like I said, it’s that underlying thought that women are not equal to men. But when I see feminists use that, I think you’re feeding into the very problem you’re trying to solve. I have major amounts of respect for stay-at-home moms. Do I ever want to be one? No! Do I even want to be a mom? I honestly can’t say right now. But tearing someone down because of the choices she makes is ridiculous and so stupid. And immature and naïve. When I see even my friends doing things like that, it just makes me really upset. Just because I do like some frivolous things doesn’t mean I’m a frivolous person.
OC: Or that you’re not worthy of respect.
RV: I remember it really getting to me in 6th grade. I would wear basketball shorts and sneakers; whatever, I wore what I wore. But a girl asked me why I dressed like a boy. I was like, “I can’t win!” If I dress in girly clothes, then I’m not smart and all of these assumptions, but if I dress more like a tomboy, then I’m also being judged. That was kind of the turning point, where I was like, “Screw it, I’m just going to do what I want to do.”
Rosie, thank you for your incredible dedication and contributions to the GIRLWITHABOOK team this summer! Wishing you the best of luck in all your future endeavors
~ Olivia, Lena, and Jennifer