May 1, 2022

ONONYE | Time to Stop Womansplaining

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My column “Womansplaining” has been the best part of my Cornell career.

Apologies to my friends, professors, extracurriculars and courses that couldn’t live up to this column: you are all honorable mentions. Which makes writing this last “Womansplaining” column so overwhelmingly heartbreaking, horrible, exciting and final. I hope every single Cornellian finds their own Womansplaining. I also hope that every Cornellian has a brutally honest womansplainer in their life, because what will you do without me? 

I can trace most of the right decisions that I made on this campus to my time at The Sun. Most Cornellians have an idea of who a “Sunnie” is. I usually don’t make that list — I joined The Sun late in my Cornell career, I’ve never actually been to a “Sun party” and I would pick Libe over Zeus any day. But if you ask me what Cornell gave me, it gave me my column and my column gave me my voice. 

I wrote to a professor — Prof J. Lennon, literatures in english — a few weeks ago to tell him how much he had impacted me as I approached final interviews for journalism fellowships that I applied to this year. While reading a draft of one of my short stories in his ENGL 3830: Narrative Writing course at the end of my sophomore year (the dreaded Spring 2020), Prof. Lennon told me that I could be a real writer if I wanted to. At that point in my Cornell career I was fiercely pre-law, and while I still plan to go to law school, his words showed me that I didn’t have to fit into the cookie-cutter life that my parents had mapped out for me for so long. It was a compliment that I didn’t know would change my life and be the incentive that I needed to apply to be a columnist for the upcoming semester. This upcoming fall, about two years after that original conversation, I will begin my first full-time position as a journalist at CNN. 

My first column — “It’s 2020: Stop Calling Martha Martha” — was by far the most popular (and my favorite!) piece that I ever wrote, which left me with two years of trying to live up to my writing and passion in that piece. I never did. But I tried. In my column, I have explored my thoughts about on-campus activism, popular culture, mental health, feminist holidays and my relationships with my friends. It is a privilege — as I’ve learned in my first few professional writing opportunities — to write about what you care about. “Womansplaining” is exclusively what I care about. And the beauty of it is that people read it! 

When that first column was published I was overwhelmed. Within minutes, I was getting texts and emails from friends, getting hate messages on Twitter and having my intelligence questioned on Facebook, and was told that my article was discussed in important meetings at Cornell and beyond. My words mattered to more people than just my parents and close friends. Even the people vehemently against my “complaining,” “political correctness” and “nonsense” (all adjectives from lovely hate-messages and comments by the way!) gave me some validation, because if they hated my pieces so much that they felt the need to email me about them, at least they read them. Or they read the title, but we won’t go into that today. It was also the first time I had fans on campus. It was fun to get emails and get stopped in the dining hall by people who resonated with my words. 

So, this leads me to the sappy heartfelt goodbye that you’ve been waiting for: “I hope every Cornellian has their own Womansplaining.” I hope you find something at Cornell that provides you with a life-altering existential crisis, something that reminds you amidst the overwhelming pressure of this campus that you are talented, and something that isn’t just a chore on your list of 30-something things to get done by the end of the week. You deserve something on this campus that’s just for you, something that you can leave Cornell deeply passionate about and proud of. 

I joke to my friends that my column is the only thing about Cornell that’s never felt like a chore — I’ve never cried about my column, never fought over my column (except with my mom who is fond of censoring my writing before I send it to my editors) and never questioned if it was the right decision for me. Rather, my column has encouraged me to open my eyes to new career opportunities, encouraged me to reflect on the best and worst parts of my Cornell experience and was fun when life wasn’t fun. It’s never been stressful — and since this is my last piece, I can admit that I write every piece (including this one!) the day that they’re due, despite having two weeks to write. 

Your Womansplaining is most likely not a column. Maybe it’s your acapella group, your line in the Cornell Fashion Collective show, your research team, your favorite course, your gym class, your best friends, your on-campus job or reading your favorite author. Many ruminate on the best ways to be successful at Cornell: have multiple minors, take the most competitive internship, work on your public speaking, become the president of that club, save up your money and (the dreaded!) network. While all of those are great, Cornell is meaningless if you don’t get anything out of it for yourself. If you haven’t found your own Womansplaining yet, go find it — I didn’t find mine until junior year. 

And you don’t have to do it alone! Since my column is uniquely me, the pieces wouldn’t be what they are without the people in my Cornell community that have pushed me to be the person — and writer — that I am. I am tactically choosing not to mention any friends or classmates here with the inevitable fear that I would miss someone —  I love you all and will spend these last few weeks showing you that. That being said, I want to use this printed space to thank some of the most influential mentors of my Cornell career: Jay Branegan, Naminata Diabate, Brooke Duffy, Corey Earle, Amadou Fofana, Shura Gat, Durba Ghosh, Gina Giambattista, Jeff Godowski, Steve Israel, Jane Juffer, J. Robert Lennon, Ryan Lombardi, Marla Love, Darin Self and Wendy Treat. My time at Cornell (and this column) wouldn’t have been possible without your leadership and guidance over the past four years. Also a special thanks to my mom for reading all of my columns and stopping me from publishing ones that were a little too risqué — I still have those drafts, so stay tuned. Thanks to my dad for not minding (too much!) how much I love this column and my slight life detour into journalism. 

Finally, thank you to my incredible little brother Ezugo Ononye ‘24 who has taken this campus by stride, despite starting off in the middle of a pandemic — Cornell’s yours now. 

Anuli Ononye (she/her) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is the final installment of her column Womansplaining.