In the midst of everything— and I mean everything-– going on: Gun control reform, the #MeToo Movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, among so many other things, I saw a quote about a year ago on Twitter that especially jumped out at me, and stuck with me. This tweet was written just days after the Women’s March on Washington and Trump’s inauguration.
I’ve outwardly identified as a feminist since college, even though my personal definition of feminism has evolved since then (for the better– mostly to consciously and intentionally include intersectional feminism and to realize that all forms and fights of feminism are important), and I believe I have actually always been a feminist since I was old enough to realize and see inequalities between boys and girls and men and women.
I’ve spoken outwardly and openly about Women’s Rights, Reproductive Rights, Gay Rights, Civil Rights, and anything and everything in between– on this blog, on my social media handles, in my private and personal life amongst friends, acquaintances, and strangers. My dialogue and the way I speak about them has changed, however. While I mostly have my views and beliefs set in stone, I’ve found that I am more open to discussion and learning about where others are coming from, especially if where we meet in the middle is blurred. Perhaps that has just come with maturity.
I’ve called my representatives once. I’ve voted Democrat in every election except for one– having proudly casted my ballot for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Hillary Clinton in 2016; for Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold. I’ve donated to Planned Parenthood and bowled for Disability Rights.
I ‘walked out’ of my university class in 2010 in protest of the Act 10 bill- although I don’t actually believe it was a respectful way to do it because I had a class at the time.
As a teacher, I’ve created whole units and schemes of work on the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo Movements, on the history of the N-Word, on Gun Control Reform, on Civil Rights, on the Holocaust, on on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, on Gay rights and Disability Rights and Women’s rights in both the occidental world as well as the Middle East (Pakistan and Afghanistan, thank you Malala).
Over the course of my social media use, I’ve published and retweeted articles, opinions, and comments that support the movements I support.
Election Night, 2016
Sometime in 2016, during the campaign
I feel that, for the most part, I do my best to live out my own personal principles of feminism. I do my best to look at and read things with a critical eye, to call out racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. when I see it or hear it, to start a dialogue about injustices and current events in the world– or create a lesson plan / “teachable moment” for my classroom. I try to be the first to admit that I have more to learn and that I am not perfect in my actions, although I’ve always had the best of intentions.
But I do often wonder, perhaps more than usual and especially as an American expat: have I been doing enough? I’ve attended Prides and have marched in the Rainbow Alliance for Hope march in my college town, but I still haven’t attended the Women’s Marches in Paris of 2017 and 2018 (due to prior commitments, or constraints, or I don’t know what). I’ve donated to Planned Parenthood and called my Congresspeople, but I don’t do it on a regular basis. I’ve voted in most elections and primaries, but I didn’t participate in Act 10 protests in Madison (I went to one in Oshkosh) I’ve done a bit of volunteering my town, but I have never gone to volunteer at the Calais Jungle, just an hour away from where I live.
2017 Lille Pride
Lately I’ve been reading articles and simultaneous remembering about how feminism, even just five years ago, was scrutinized. It was still an obnoxious and even ‘dirty’ word, but is now a part of popular and mainstream culture, which is amazing, of course– but is feminism and activism in general becoming just a ‘trend?’ (And, if so, is that a necessarily a bad thing?) I remember (recently!) and (shamefully!) feeling envious of women I love in my life because they are now being praised by people I had previously been mocked or belittled by for doing the same things that I have been doing– speaking out, attending these marches and voting and wearing these sweatshirts. The better part of me wants to applaud the world for finally coming round to the idea, and humbly pat myself on the back because I participated even through ridicule, and because I am not one to get boggled down by petty shit. But I’m only human, after all.
Watching Emma Gonzales’s speech about gun control reform this week was inspiring– most of us Gen Y’ers are super impressed with her and of all their bravery. At the same time, it makes me (perhaps a bit childishly, or selfishly) pine for the person I could have been– that I knew I was– ten years ago– who had that voice, but felt it being squashed in the environment she had grown up in— who conformed to society’s expectations around her, and then a few years later fled across the Atlantic Ocean to get away from it all and find her voice. I still feel envious and proud of people I knew then, mostly from my UU Congregation– (A shoutout to you, Freesia, Nic, Katie, Evan!)- who know exactly who they were even back then and weren’t ashamed of it. These people are still doing incredible things today and I feel as though I’m late to the party.
I had been doing a two-week mini unit on gun control with my Terminales (Seniors) when Florida happened (again). The day after the shooting was the day of our debate. Coincidently (or perhaps not), we had another school-wide lockdown drill just a few days later. I felt weirdly triggered by this drill, and had trouble talking to my students about what had happened until yesterday, when I finally showed the video of Ms. Gonzales. I told my Terminal students what I’m telling you– the shooting triggered something inside of me– it broke something inside of me– the lockdown drill triggered me– that I am exhausted and sick of tired of being the sole American many French people know here or come across here, and being expected to immediately defend my country or talk about guns or Trump. I am so, so tired. I just can’t always muster up the energy anymore, even though I am reading and listening and learning– and hurting inside. We need gun control reform. I don’t want to be an armed teacher. I shouldn’t have to be an armed teacher. And perhaps it’s my white privilege that trumps when I say that I’m simple too tired to deal today, or this week.
When I look back at myself and at who I was ten years ago– an almost-eighteen-year-old who hated injustices but spent most of her time practicing gymnastics, I’m not always proud of the fact that I didn’t do more to stand my ground. Perhaps I can blame that on being a teenager, or succumbing to societal and peer pressures. When I look at the person I was six years ago, there’s still apart of me that cringes. I was much more vocal about my views but I was often mocked or ridiculed for being too passionate or too vocal (is that a thing?) which then led to shame (and perhaps I was a bit obnoxious– but growing up I felt as though I was never and couldn’t be heard). Finally, when I look at who I have become since entering my mid-to-late(!) twenties, I am mostly proud to defend the person I have become.
23, 21, and 17-year-old me
But have I been doing enough? Am I doing enough? Is participating in the big, wide-spread, publicized events (with instagram proof!?) what it takes in today’s social media-dominated world, especially when large, screaming crowds aren’t really your thing? Or can little, everyday actions that impact my local or intimate communities also make a lasting impact? I’m afraid of being “All talk but no action”, yet I feel I live out my talks through my everyday, day-to-day actions. Will I be proud of my contributions to the world when we read about these sweeping changes in the history books in sixty years? Will I be able to tell my grandchildren stories and be proud of the way I participated in change? I sure do hope so, but these are the questions I am asking myself. I suppose, in the end, that the only option or validation that counts or matters is mine.
As I turn 28 next month, and head to Nepal this upcoming Sunday for ten days, I hope to truly unplug and get a clearer picture of other things and issues happening around the world- issues involving women, social classes, people of color. The goal of Nepal is to listen. Perhaps leaving the western world will bring a clearer head and more confident vision.