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Monday, February 28, 2011

my feminist awakening

by Kaleigh

I suppose that I stumbled into feminism somewhat by accident. I was a teenager, attending community college, and was disinterested in my studies, for the most part. The only time I felt enlivened in the classroom was if I had a teacher who was particularly riveting, and these teachers tended to be the ones that took an interest in me and my future as a student. One of such teachers happened to be a professor of Women's Studies. Quite honestly, I had no idea what the class would be like when I enrolled in it. I had heard that it was an interesting course, so I signed up. I always knew that I cared fiercely about people and justice, but I was never able to formalize this passion into thoughts and ideas about action. The class was fairly academically rigorous, heavily weighted in theory and historical constructs, and I found myself truly caring. I was being challenged to think in a new way, to see the world with new vision. I remember that I composed a song for a part of my final project, and I performed it in class. Looking back on it now, I think the lyrics were pretty generic and lacked depth; but at the time, I truly meant what I sang. I remember explaining the song and the writing process after I performed it, and I said, "I just want to make a difference." I will never forget the look on my teacher's face, her smile and her eyes as she simply said, "You will." I am someone who has tremendous issues with confidence and self worth (as many under patriarchy do), and those two words have stuck with me and have empowered me to this very day.

I departed from feminist thought for a year and half after completing that course. I didn't come back to it until I was nineteen and moved to California. I didn't know anyone and was completely alone. I started at a University, and visited the school's women's center during my first week. I talked with the person at the front desk about the center, looked around, and noticed that they were looking for interns, so I applied and got the position. I am so grateful for this because that was the darkest time in my life, and if I didn't have that internship, I'm not sure if I would have come out of it.

Two weeks after I moved to California, I met some people at a school festival and was invited to a party the next night. I didn't have any friends, so I went alone. I remember having about a half of a screwdriver, and that's it. After that, it was a complete haze. I never felt so uncontrollably shit-faced in my entire life, and it definitely wasn't my first time drinking. I remember not having control over my body, not being able to move, being catatonic on the floor of these strangers' apartment as I vomited all over myself. And I remember the group of men hovering around me, their voices hissing remarks about my body, their hands touching places that I reserved only for loving caresses. I wasn't alive enough to even be scared.

Then, I remember her. But not her, completely. I wasn't coherent enough to register sight, but for whatever reason, I could hear what was going on around me. On some level, I know exactly what happened and the things that were being said, but my body felt literally paralyzed. I remember her voice clearly. She stayed by me. I remember the tremor and panic and urgency in her words. I guess she found my phone, because the woman from whom I was renting a room came to pick me up. I still don't know who the girl is, what her face looks like. All I know is that I will be forever grateful to her, because she saved me that night. I don't know if I believe in guardian angels, but for whatever reason, there was someone or something that night that wanted me to make it.

Somehow, with the girl's help, I made it to the woman's car, and back to my bed. I awoke the next morning, drenched in everything that my body expelled the night before. I have never felt so much shame. I figured out that the girl called my parents' house in Washington, reaching my brother who woke my mom up to tell her that I was drunk and passed out at a strangers house. Immediately, I blamed myself. That's what we do, isn't it? When we are violated, we take it on ourselves, don't we? I know I did. I was distraught that I worried my family so much, and embarrassed that my landlord had to come get me and see me in that state. I convinced myself that I drank too much, that I let myself get out of hand. But I know, I know that I hardly drank anything that night. I know it. It wasn't until a discussion I had with the other interns and our supervisor at the women's center about date rape drugs that it clicked.

After the incident, I continued my descent.  The following year held nothing but hate and violence that I directed toward myself in every which way. As I said earlier, if it wasn't for my internship, I would have felt that I had absolutely no purpose, and I don't doubt that I would have let my self-inflicted pain get even farther than it did. Coming together with other women to learn and talk about oppression was my only respite. It was the only thing in my life that gave me a shred of esteem, and I literally owe my life to feminism. I would never be able to love and honor myself the way I do if it weren't for the hope that feminist thought, community, and action have given me. I still struggle greatly with loving myself, without question; however, I don't despise myself anymore, which for me, has made all the difference.

I have since continued on in my search for understanding the world through feminism. I've worked in various feminist organizations and have had the great honor of knowing some of the most amazing, loving, thoughtful people in my life, as a result of feminist organizing. It's been six years since that first Women's Studies course, and I know I am still at the very beginning. It's humbling and inspiring to know that there is still so much to learn, so much to do. I welcome the next phase of my life and the pursuit of social justice with that same unyielding passion which was lit six years ago.

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