The Things We Carry

They rarely think about us.

Balancing books braced over our backs, but what they lack in understanding is that these treasure troves of theory and thought sometimes feel like anvils. At last, Atlas shares his burden.

We carry the world on our shoulders. Holding up the lands of our mothers that have been stripped bare, and we are painfully too aware of our country built on those ruins. I’d say we were the chosen ones. That this was a destiny the gods bestowed and now we owed the heavens for this opportunity to be heroes. I mean, I have always wanted to fly.

But our radioactive spiders and Gamma rays took the form of days spent wishing that it all bounced off our steel chests, but instead we were made to feel. And somehow we are faulted for emotion, the ocean that rises when each of us sympathizes with someone else.

We take up the mantle anyway. Refusing capes and unwilling to fake who we really are.

We learned early that the world does not provide balm for the scars that it leaves. We protect culture and carry it in our speech and dress, the double takes and long glances fueling confident gaits and high-held heads.

We are champions of the voiceless, in armor of ethically sourced, sweat-free steel. We fight with swords, spears, standards, smear-proof lipstick in one hand and a cup of Caribou in the other. We are gritty and soft and beauty and brawn and sometimes we’re just straight up tired.

Sometimes it can feel like too much. The struggle to keep up with the rush can be such a drain. We have it ingrained in us to continue the race because the finish line moves further away each day. It’d be easier to sit down and accept, but we hold each other, embolden each other, leading the charge on the days when one of us simply can’t. We return the favor and with this love and fervor, our hearts beat all who oppose and oppress. And that is the best reward.

 

 

thumbnail_147Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele. 

Living More with Less-Part 2

I began to realize that my relationship with my mother was as toxic as my relationship with the three men who abused me. I have never told my mother about the abuse, even to this day; I always assumed that she would blame me. My therapist and I began to evaluate the reasons why this was the case, and what I found was two things.

First, that I always heard language from my mother that was blaming me for things.  Throughout my life I commonly heard the phrases, “He was always abusive,” and, “I only stayed with him because of you,” when she talked about her relationship with my biological father. These narratives gave me the belief that my mother suffered at his hands because of me. When she met my step-father, she was so happy.  How could I, once again, be to blame for her being miserable?  Second, my mother had a lot of control over my life. By not telling her about the abuse I was maintaining some sort of control over my own life.

As I was able to deconstruct each relationship I was able to pull together a list of the people that were a part of my support team.  That support team has become essential for my health and well-being.

With the inspiration to find the complete Emmy, I decided to keep looking deep within myself. I wanted to make sure that I implemented these new ideas I was introduced to. One of the things I realized was that when I was trapped in triggering moments, a common thing I did was buy things. I almost felt as though I should be able to walk into an addiction meeting and say the following soliloquy:

“Hello, my name is Emmy and I am a recovering shopper. I was never told that my addiction was bad for me. In fact, I was told time and again that my addiction was good. Good for the economy, good for my family, and good as an example of my personal achievements. I was given this advice by countless advertisements, television shows, movies, songs, and really in almost every aspect of my life in our society.”

Some people may laugh at this, thinking that I am joking or maybe that I am insane. I have certainly felt on occasion that I was running some marathon of insanity. For most of my life I felt as though having more material objects would make me happy. I was positive that having more things than my friends would make me the envy of those around me. I believed that my life would be better if I had a bigger house, or if I could wear a different outfit every day for a month.

That was definitely not the case. Having more things only created more problems in my life. If I didn’t have the newest video game for my children, on the day of its release, I felt like a bad mom. If I didn’t have a new dress for every event I attended, I felt as though every person in my life knew it and would think I had bad fashion sense. If my home didn’t have expensive things I thought that everyone around me would think I was poor. I should have listened to The Notorious B.I.G. when he said, “Mo money, Mo problems.”

And then there’s the “high.” Buying things created within me a feeling of euphoria. For instance, when I got a four hundred dollar purse for only $75 I felt like the queen of bargain hunting. It became a cycle, and a very vicious one at that. If I felt bad, I would go shopping, which would give me a small sense of fulfillment. I would bring home bags of things that I would never use, items that I would spend thousands of dollars on. I still have a dress hanging in my closet that I have never taken the tags off. It is a beautiful dress, but I have never found the time to wear it. That dress is eight years old.

In many ways, this same cycle is running through the lives of people in our society. Advertising has an intense hold on our lives that many people do not even begin to understand.  It affects our psyche in treacherous ways, and I believe, wholeheartedly, that it creates a cycle of addiction that people do not acknowledge. Meanwhile, companies are making billions of dollars on the addiction that has been created; hidden under the guise of “The American Dream.”

These things would fill up my house and life with complications, which would in turn make me unhappy. This was because there was one thing that those bags never held; happiness.

So, I set about on the decision to stop hiding my pain within the act of buying.

This addiction became a coping mechanism for me.  I used buying to get me through the times when I wanted to escape from the realities that were my life; the reality that I was a terrified woman living with the pain of years of abuse and concealing. The cruelty that I experienced threatened to creep out of my every pore some days, and those were the days when I would go to the mall and spend hundreds of dollars on things that I never needed.

The action of change was difficult. I certainly went through feelings that could be termed as withdrawals. I had to stop going to stores for no reason; forcing myself to make lists when I went to stores to pick up things. These lists would be scrutinized, making sure that each item on it was a need. Then it required me to go by those lists; I didn’t allow myself to be distracted or deviate from them. In some ways, this approach was just like giving up cigarettes or crack; most days I just wanted to go to the mall and buy anything!

After I felt good about my shopping habits I began making decisions that felt good! I had extra money (now that I wasn’t spending it all), extra time (now that I wasn’t at the mall every day), and I wanted to make more positive successes in my life. I started college, originally to achieve a two-year Associate in Arts degree, but it quickly turned into a double Bachelor’s, followed by the decision to achieve a Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

During my first semester, I attended an Analytical Writing course, and this one class ignited the passions that became my majors a year later. I created papers that I was proud and passionate about. I loved every minute. After that first semester, I was already saying to myself, “I can’t just be here for two years.  I need more.”

The more turned into the decision to quit my full-time job and become a tutor at the writing center of the college I attended; it became a double major in English Rhetoric and Women’s Studies; it became something that I have been proud of every single day. Of course, I have to think about the fact that I have exchanged one addiction for another. But addiction is not something that can just be pushed aside for most people. A smoker will turn to chewing gum when they try giving up cigarettes, because they need some sort of sensory feeling that reminds them of smoking. For myself, replacing the dangerous habit of spending money with the habit of education is something that I do happily. However, being aware of it means that I still find myself needing to realize when I am going too far.

For instance, I recently had a rather busy week.  It was Women’s History Month, and the Women’s Center had a great number of activities going on, most of which I have been involved with in some way. We also had thirteen visiting students from South Africa, and I was volunteering some time to spend with the ladies during their stay. There came a point when I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue the frantic pace, and so I stepped back and allowed someone else to take my place.

I began listening to myself more too! The idea to quit my job was probably one of the hardest decisions I have made.  I was making a lot of money at my full-time job, and deciding to quit was definitely a decision that could not be made lightly.

One day I was having lunch with a key member of my support circle, Dawn.  At the time, I was working full-time and completing a 12-credit course load in my first semester of college.  We were talking about the fact that we were unable to spend a lot of time together.

Dawn said, “You know, I hate that I am unable to spend time with people that I love because of work.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said, “I see the people at work a lot more than I see my friends and family. It’s such a pity.”

“And these aren’t even people that I would spend time with if I had the choice.” She said.

I laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”

We commiserated for an hour over the various functions that we were required to attend for our workplaces: dinners, meetings, holiday parties, and even out of town conferences. We talked about the people that we worked with, and how we wouldn’t spend time with them at all, if given the choice.

I went home that night and really started thinking about it. By that time I was living in a different apartment which was much cheaper than the one I lived at in Monticello. Because I had drastically given up my shopping addiction, my bills equated to under four hundred dollars a month.  I made some pretty elaborate lists and charts of my finances, and I found that I could easily make enough money in a month to become a full-time student and still pay my bills.

The last thing that happened during this time was that after realizing that I could live alone happily, I came to the hard knowledge that my divorce, years before, really happened because I was scared that my relationship was good. The fear that was a part of my life had affected how I looked at my marriage. I divorced Gerard (my ex-husband) because I was too afraid to look inside of our relationship and find what was worth saving. There was a problem and I ran from it; simply because that is all that I knew how to do at the time.

Of course, shame and guilt came upon me next, but for the first time I looked at it head on and challenged it; I didn’t run and hide from it. I had to give myself a break.  No one ever taught me about how healthy relationships happen. There were no classes in school teaching us about healthy boundaries.

I started thinking about Gerard, a lot. Our divorce was never really about not loving him, as much as it was about not loving myself. Once I was no longer running from myself, I could give up the emotions that were my life. I could give up the control that I used to need so desperately.

But again, I was left with quite a dilemma. I left him, driving out of Minnesota years before, like a bat out of hell. How could I suddenly come back and say, “Oops, my bad.”? I called my big sister to ask for her advice.

“Melinda, I don’t know what to do.” I said.

“Okay, what’s the problem?”  My sister is very practical. I often say that I am like a balloon flying through the world wanting to be free, and my sister is the person holding me so that I do not fly too high and pop.

“I’ve been thinking about Gerard a lot lately.” It sounded pointless to even say the words.

“Thinking about him in what way?” I could hear something in her voice, but I really couldn’t tell what it was.

“Well,” I said, “in a romantic way.”

“Oh.” She replied, I don’t think she really expected it. “Where did this come from?”

I knew what she meant. “Remember when we sat talking about the divorce,” I started, “and I said that I knew I couldn’t be with him anymore. What I really meant was that I couldn’t be with myself.”

“Wow,” she said. “Really?”

“Yeah. But I don’t know what to do.” I answered.

“What do you want to do about it?” She asked.

“I want to call him, and I guess ask him out. Is that weird?” I asked back.

“No,” she responded, “I don’t think it’s weird.”

“I can’t do it though” I said.

“Why not?” She asked me.

“Because he obviously hates me” I answered. “Look at what I did to him! I left him; I abandoned our lives and our family.”

“Okay,” she said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I had to take a few minutes to think about that one. I said, “I guess the worst thing that could happen is that he’ll say no.”

“And will that destroy you?” she asked. “Will you not be able to go on if that happens?”

“No,” I said, “I suppose I’ll just move on again from it. It’ll hurt of course, but I am living by myself okay right now. I suppose I can keep doing that.”

“Then just ask.” She said.  My sister has this matter of fact way about her.  Even in matters of the heart, she is all business.

I couldn’t find the courage to call Gerard after that, but I did message him on Facebook asking if he would like to have dinner with me. Doubt tried worming into my thoughts while I looked in the mirror that night; I pushed it aside, even though I thought about cancelling almost a dozen times.

It wasn’t an easy thing, bringing our lives back together, but that was the night that started the conversation and work of becoming a couple once again. It would take an entire book to share how we came back together, but I will say that because we were honest with each other, we have been able to reach out and accept the love that we have for each other.

My time is now spent doing the things that mean the most to me.

I spend time with the people that I love the most: my partner, our children, and friends and family.

Gerard and I have found a passion in traveling together; filling our lives with amazing places and experiences that we never thought we would have.

I don’t work as hard, trying to find ways to buy things that don’t matter to my life.

I’m living more, with less.

 

 

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

Living More with Less-Part 1

The coffee maker bequeathed its little “ding,” letting me know that the pot was ready for consuming. I never let myself drink the coffee before the entire pot is ready; it always tastes different if you do, less full bodied. I poured myself a cup, adding cream and sugar, just the way I liked it.  I went outside to my apartment balcony and sat in the teal high-backed lawn chair that I bought for that singular purpose. I found it relaxing to sit outside enjoying the sounds of the morning while sipping my first cup of the day. Today, though, I couldn’t enjoy the birds singing in the spring air. To be honest, I didn’t even hear them.

There are times in life when we are thrust into positions we never imagined for ourselves.  I kept staring inside at the apartment; looking at furniture, pictures on the wall, and the possessions of two people. But I was the only person left in the apartment.

The feelings that welled up inside me over the next few weeks were like old friends; fear, shame, guilt. The fear that I would be alone, once again, without someone to call my love; patriarchal gender norms at their finest! The shame of giving up on yet another relationship; this wasn’t the first time I ran away from a partner. There was also the guilt of wondering what I did wrong.

I met Bertin in the spring of 2011.  In 2010, I went through a rather irregular divorce, after which I moved to California.  We decided to do what was best for our two children, which included trying to make the divorce as easy as possible. Bertin was pretty much the exact opposite of my ex-husband: unpredictable, irresponsible, and unstoppable.  He was everything that I wanted to be; everything that I pretended I could be.

Our fights were like two storms coming together. I was the tornado, tearing through life, creating a path of destruction and pain.  Bertin was a volcano, quiet until suddenly he burst through with the power to demolish anything in his path.  Needless to say, we were not a good combination.  We met in a whirlwind. A swirl of time in which it all seemed to stand still. And each day we were together the storms tried to tear each other apart, but those storms were us! We moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to Minnesota. We broke up and came back together three times during the two years we were together. He went on a trip to see his family in San Diego.

I remember dropping him off at the airport. I drove my green two-door Mitsubishi. I picked the car out of the lot, not for gas mileage or durability. I picked it because it had a sunroof, and I always wanted one. Bertin and I ate breakfast at our favorite diner. It was a tiny family owned restaurant that was only open for breakfast and lunch in Monticello. I always got their pancakes, amazingly large and fluffy, with hash browns and bacon; Bertin got the corned beef hash with eggs, which was his favorite from our first visit. We drove to the airport holding hands the entire time. His smooth fingers rubbed in the space between my thumb and forefinger. We chatted as though it was any other day. He never lived away from his family, which was something I could easily understand. I kissed him goodbye; thinking that I would be seeing him in just one week.  But a month later, he was still making excuses as to why he wasn’t coming back home.

Everything in my life seemed to be a tumultuous affair; my relationship with Bertin, my family life growing up, my twelve-year marriage to Gerard, and my friendships. They all seemed to be situated around common factors; fear, shame, and guilt. But, I didn’t realize how they fit together, until the day I stood in that apartment surrounded by Bertin’s things.

When I look back now, I realize that these emotions were in control of me during most of my life.  During that time, though, they just seemed normal.  I hardly knew anything else.  And so, I sat there in my empty apartment, all alone, and I finally decided that I had to do something drastic.  I had to make myself whole. I needed to find a way to live more.

I sat down for the first time in my life and tried to really figure it out. I turned to some of the things that have always been a part of my life, books. I love to read. There have been times in my life when books were a substantial escape for me. Sometimes I would read up to five books in a single week. I began reading Elizabeth Gilbert and Alexandra Stoddard. Both authors wrote about taking deep looks within yourself. Sometimes you might not like what you see, and that’s okay, but you have to look. I didn’t see someone strong inside myself, although that’s the kind of woman I have always thought myself to be. I found someone who spent the last thirty-some years running.

I was sexually abused for twelve years of my childhood.  It started when I was five years old, and continued until I was seventeen.  There were three men who abused me during the most vulnerable years of my life. Sometimes, even now, I look at a sentence like that and have a hard time believing it.

Those years of abuse were tremendously hidden, in a number of ways.  First, no one within my family knew about the abuse. Second, I hid the abuse deep within me during most of my life. Once a year, I would have a remarkable breakdown; the only time that I would let out the pain.  Usually this would result in sobbing for a couple of days, with no one to console me. After a few days I would pack it all away, within its neat little box where I believed the effects of my abuse needed to live.  I lived nineteen years with constant emotional roller coasters. During that time, I tried numerous depression medications to try to solve the adversity that was my life. But medications for depression are for changing the neurotransmitters in our brain that affect our emotions. My own depression wasn’t just in my brain; it thrummed through my blood and hid in the deepest reaches of my soul.

I finally began to understand that my abuse was harming me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom. I could no longer push aside these emotions and memories. I knew that I had to confront them if I ever wanted to be happy.

Health insurance is woefully lacking in assistance for those that need any sort of counseling services. I was stuck in an expensive lease that I was paying for by myself. I definitely did not have the money for the eighty-five dollars an hour that some of the clinics were charging.

I used to work with a woman, Samantha, who I knew was a licensed counselor. I was hoping that she would have some ideas for low cost assistance. She knew that the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center had advocates and counselors on hand, and that they provided free services within our area. I snuck out to my parent’s garage one particularly hard day, when I was feeling the creeping emotions pulling me deep into their embrace, and I dialed the phone number that Samantha had given me.

“Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, how can I help you?” The woman on the other side of the telephone asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I said, “I think that I need to talk to someone.”

“What would you like to talk to someone about,” she asked.  “I need to know a little information so that I can get you to the right person who can help you.”

Here it was, truth time. Whatever I said here would mean that more than a small handful of people would become people that knew about my shame. I took a deep breath, but my voice came out in the tiniest of whispers.

“I was sexually abused as a child, and I am having a really hard time right now. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say.” The tears were already falling down my face, and I could feel myself sliding into the all too common frame of mind that hit me once a year.

“Thank you for sharing with me” she said, “I am going to get you on the line with one of our advocates.”

A few moments later I was talking with someone who helped me find a little bit of calm that day. She also told me some other options for future help. I could call the advocate hotline any time I wanted, and I set up a meeting to meet one of the centers counselors at a church nearby my apartment.

I will always remember the first time I met with Julie. I was terrified; shaking the entire time. It was so rare for me to say the words out loud.  What would she think of me?  One of the men who abused me was my dad.  In some ways I hate him, but in other ways I love him.  He has always been a part of my life; my family’s lives; my children’s lives!  How fucked up would she think I was?  However, Julie put me completely at ease. We didn’t have to talk about it right away, if even ever. She was there to listen to me. Whatever I wanted to say.

We did end up talking about my abuse that day and once a week thereafter. But what she taught me about myself was so much more. She helped me find confidence; the confidence to believe myself and to trust myself. She helped me find the dedication to follow through with confronting the things that were to become known as my triggering events.  Instead of hiding them, trying to pack them away in those neat little boxes, I could let them out. Visit the memories, and find a way out of them. She reminded me that five-year-old Emmy was still a part of me and she was scared!

One of the things that has helped me the most is a picture of myself in my phone. I was five years old, and the picture was from when I was in Kindergarten. I am wearing a blue button up shirt with little red flowers on it. I remember the shirt was cotton; it was always crisp but smelled of Downey fabric softener. I had three colors of yarn in my pigtails: red, white, and blue. I always loved it when my mom did my hair; these were some of the last happy years of my life. When I am triggering, it’s important to remind myself that that small child is safe. I will look at the picture and remind her, “You are safe. You are loved.”

Julie and I also talked about ways to develop and maintain healthy relationships. I found great importance in the idea of having healthy relationships with everyone in my life.  I learned to find boundaries within my relationships.

From those counseling sessions emerged someone I never thought I would see; a person who was happy and adjusted.  Someone who realized when she needed to slow down and look at situations with deeper analysis.  I found myself.

There are a number of relationships in my life that I have had to re-evaluate.  Each person that has crossed into my path has had to be scrutinized; a decision to be made. I think that too often we do not want to take a hard look at the people in their lives. We see everyone as a blessing; someone who loves us needs to be cherished.

But, sometimes, a person is not good for us.  It isn’t that there is something wrong with us, or them. When we deconstruct something we are able to look at it with a different lens and dig deep into the meanings behind them.

In this instance, I was deconstructing the relationships that comprised my life. I had to look at them from another lens, and not just the lens of social acceptance that I was raised to accept as normal.  That was the lens that allowed five year old me to not say anything about being touched sexually for twelve years.  By looking at this new lens I was able to see the complexities in my life that had me thinking these events as almost normal. And as I looked back, I realized that I did think of those things as normal. There was a time in my life when I assumed that this is what daddies did with their daughters.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in Emmy's Story, coming next Tuesday!

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

 

Be Afraid

The power in the room
Reverberates off the walls
A steady shared heartbeat
A collective consciousness
Pulsing behind our skin

It has been ingrained
That silence is synonymous
For woman
But our voices
Could shake the foundation
On which they stand

Tell me,
Does that scare you?
For we should

Taught to be timid
Conditioned to give in
To squeeze into spaces
We are wrongfully put in

But in this room full of women
Who have discovered
They are too big
To fit in these boxes
We’ve been given
 

I can finally breathe again

 

grace-espinozas-blog-pictureGrace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism. 

Loving Yourself in a World That Wants You to Hate Yourself 

I used to think that even though racism still exists we really had made great strides as people away from racism. That was until this year’s election. Prior to this year people were still racist, but it was kept behind closed doors. Being racist was shameful, not something to be proud of; you wouldn’t shout your bigotry from the rooftops, until now.

A few weeks ago, I was sadly reminded of the reality of racism on multiple occasions and just how loud and proud people are really getting about it.

The first incident was when I was enjoying a nice dinner that my friends had made for a group of us. We were laughing, catching up, and listening to music loud enough that you could realistically only hear the person next to you. I had picked to sit near a friend and her mom who was asking me about my family.

I of course started off with my dad’s side of the family, partially because my mom doesn’t have any family that is alive anymore and also because I am proud of my Mexican heritage. I managed to get out about six words which were “Well my dad’s side of the family is Mexican…” before my friend’s mother abruptly cut me off.

She looked me deeply in the eyes before saying, “I am so sorry for any of your Mexican relatives; I hate all Mexicans,” the same way you may tell someone that it’s raining out or today is a Thursday.

I am and have always been an outspoken woman, but this is the first time in my life I found myself stunned into silence. I could feel my cheeks flame up with a combination of blotchy anger and shame. But I couldn’t find any words to defend not only my family but my entire existence.

Due to the music, the only one who heard was my friend whose mother had just apologized for my entire race. I was hopeful that in this moment where I couldn’t find the words to stand up for myself, someone else would, but I was sadly let down again. My friend’s only response was, “Oh she didn’t mean it like that. She married a Mexican man and it didn’t end well.” That was it. That was the closest I got to an apology. A half assed excuse.

I decided I would brush it off to the best of my ability because I’ve learned it’s futile to try and change the mind of a middle aged racist. I figured that was hopefully the worst of my week or maybe even the worst of my month. But yet again, I was mistaken.

The second incident was in my natural hazards class, which happened to be just two days later. We were doing an online poll survey where people can input their responses and it shows up on the screen to, “What could you put along the rivers banks to mitigate risks from flooding?”

At first, a flood of answers you’d expect appeared on the screen slowly: a dam, a levee, and rocks. Then appeared an answer I literally couldn’t even fathom. In bright red letters was the response, “MEXICANS.” Someone in my class honestly thought a humorous suggestion to prevent flooding was to put Mexican people in the way.

I can feel the words, “What the fuck” slide off my tongue as if it were just a reflex. I reread it just to make sure I was seeing what I think I was along with the rest of the class. The girl next to me actually laughs. In my classroom taught by three different professors not a one seem to even consider commenting on the giant red “MEXICANS” for an answer on the screen; they ignore it.

Perhaps maybe they thought it wasn’t a big deal. Or even worse, maybe they thought it was a “joke.” I made a list of excuses for them as to why they chose to not shut down that comment just as fast as it appeared on the screen, but I needed them to step up.

 I am so tired. Tired of being the angry Mexican girl who is just “a little too sensitive.” So I said nothing and everyone pretended like it wasn’t happening.

But I cannot pretend I didn’t see it. I cannot ignore it or choose to overlook it because I carry it with me everywhere. I feel that shame in my bones (that feels similar to concrete).

I have been forced to take a thousand steps back in my journey to self-love that I have been working so hard on.

But fuck that, honestly.

How dare people make me feel so small and ashamed of something I have felt proud of my whole life.

I refuse to allow that because I am honored to have brown sugar skin and all the wonderful values and world views that come along with it. I will continue to find ways to love myself in a world that thrives off my self-hate because I owe that to myself.

To all my Chicanx people:

With the next month unfolding and the presidential election closing in, I urge you to not lose sight of yourself. Do not let go of your pride or your resiliency. Keep people close to you who remind you of everything there is to love about yourself. People who will not make excuses on racist’s behalf but will breathe fire down their necks for their ignorance. On the days where the weight of shame is too much to bear: cry about it, scream, or rant to your best friends for hours. Don’t ever begin to feel like you bring it up too much or that you’re oversensitive because you are not. Your feelings are valid. You are valid. Never forget.

 

grace-espinozas-blog-pictureGrace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism. 

 

 

 

 

Self-Love

Self-love is hopefully a word you hear a lot about these days. It’s a word that should connote positive affirmation and appreciation of one’s self in every form- mind, body, and soul. I firmly believe that as human beings, we are born with the innate and essential knowledge that we are whole- and we are enough. But growing up in a highly Westernized culture systematically teaches you to hate yourself- mind, body, and soul- through interlocking internalized oppressions that wiggle their way into our unsuspecting minds and take hold and distort our self-image, and more generally, our sense of self. That is why learning to love yourself takes us down a long and winding road filled with menacing obstacles that keep us from feeling whole and centered. It requires just as much unlearning as it does learning: unlearning all of the lies in which we have come to hold self-evident, that we are not worthy, not beautiful, not enough. But these are lies. And in order to successfully untangle these destructive thoughts, we must take care of ourselves.

Self-love and self-care go hand in hand, because in order for us to love ourselves, we must practice what that love looks like on a continuous basis. And self-care can look different from person to person. Some acts of self-care include, but are not limited to: dancing, singing, biking, yoga, good hygiene, healthy eating (for what’s within your means), meditation, reaching out to others, being emotionally honest, sexuality, etc. In this post, I’m going to share my ongoing journey to self-love and fulfillment, and what self-care tools are working for me in the hopes of bringing about radical vulnerability- meaning that I’m going to be vulnerable with you in the hopes that readers can relate to my experiences and feel less alone; to feel a sense of belonging. Now, all aboard the love train!

When beginning to think about my own relationship with self-love and self-care, I feel that it is important to be honest with all of you and share that I am a person who lives with mental illnesses. My mental illnesses take shape as depression, a social anxiety disorder, and the scars of an eating disorder that still haunt me to this day. My mental illnesses have brought me almost unfathomable pain and misery, driving me to the brink of suicide when I was only a teenager. This lived experience provided me with an acute sense of my own mortality, and through healing has left me a heightened awareness of just how precious and valuable life is. Having brushed lips with the angel of death galvanized me to start rebuilding my self-love and sense of self from the ground up, and I’m continuing to learn a lot about what it means to really love yourself along the way of this restoration project.

For starters, I have learned that mental health and physical wellness are deeply interconnected. Having dealt with deep seated body dysmorphia and negative self-image, I first took to yoga to get my body positivity back on track. And wow, I can hardly believe what a profound impact yoga and mindfulness has had on my life. Beginning my continuous yoga journey has helped forge a relationship between my mind, body, and soul. It livens and opens energy channels of my body that I hadn’t realized I had! It reminds me that my body is a good place to be because of how great it can feel when mind and body are aligned, or in sync with each other. I’ve learned how to send loving thoughts to those parts of myself that I haven’t always known to love. It fosters a deep sense of calmness that reverberates throughout my whole being, helping me finally feel at home in my own skin. The thing about bodies is that you don’t get to control which one you’re born into, and you can’t just wrinkle your nose and do a switcharoo if you feel dissatisfied. I’m going to be in this body for the rest of my life, so I want to nourish and sustain it in ways that make me feel good and energized. This newfound connection to my body and yoga practice inspired me to quit abusing substances and become totally sober (besides the occasional boost of caffeine). I feel happier and much more lively because it of it, by guiding myself to establish good sleeping and eating habits that help me sustain energy and feel engaged.

And speaking of cool things bodies can do, let’s talk about sex. Sex, whether you’re flying solo (masturbation), or with other(s), is a great form of self-care that is important to most sexually mature people, though there are plenty of asexual people with varying expressions (or non-expressions) of sexuality. I, however, am not asexual. My sexuality has been a formidable and irreplaceable force in my self-care routine. Don’t worry though- I’ll spare you the details. Sex and sexuality helps me feel loveable and desirable, both for myself and for others. It’s a way of enacting the belief that I deserve to feel good and loved, and my sexuality is a crucial component of that. In public discourse, sexuality is viewed as dirty or shameful, but sexuality can be such a healthy, pure, spiritual, and sensual experience that I hate to see it reduced to such vulgar and degrading terms. Let’s break down sexual taboos and start enacting sex positivity! Also, where are my bisexuals and pansexuals at?! MAKE SOME NOISE!!

Moving on- another integral part of my self-care and self-love is my gender expression. Being able to express my gender through what I wear and how I style myself is one of the most liberating experiences I could hope for. Every day, I wake up and am (more or less) excited to greet the day because one of the first things I get to do is choose my outfit. Adorning my body with different sorts of garments (of which I love to mix and match), jewelry, and some cosmetics give me the feeling that I am in control of who I am- self-determined, creative, and way too queerly punk to conform to society’s standards. It’s a daily declaration to the world that I get to define and decorate my body on my own terms. The empowerment I feel by resisting transmisogyny every single day is both rewarding and exhausting- sometimes the threat of danger can feel crushing and demoralizing. In face of this everyday form of trauma, I equip myself with as much love and compassion as I can muster- giving myself time every day to look into the mirror and appreciate the beauty I see gazing back at me. And you know what?! I LOVE the femme that I am. Knowing that no matter how much others tear me down, I’m more resilient than they are cruel. To really love ourselves, we must also recognize the humanity and dignity in everyone else, or else we are acting in opposition to our own humanity.

One other form of self-care that I practice most days is making time for me to be totally immersed and swept away by music. As a lot of people with mental illness will attest, music brings me so much joy and solace and can put me in a very happy and blissful state of mind. Listening to music and dancing can heal and provide nourishment for the soul- I love to get lost within the sounds and give myself over to the feelings and sensations it brings forth. I have an incredibly emotional connection to the music I listen to, and it assists me in feeling deeply without hesitation. Listening to and appreciating music helps me stay open and not close myself off from feelings (a symptom of depression). It helps me stay present and live in the moment.

Loving and caring for oneself is essential in our well-being and survival. In fact, as inspired by Laverne Cox, it is revolutionary. I show myself love through self-care in many different ways, from doing yoga to flossing my teeth. It is in no way selfish, and in every way self-fulfilling. To quote the great Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Caring for and loving yourself in a world that dehumanizes people around every corner is absolutely beautiful and necessary. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but is worth it. As cheesy as it may sound, you really are your own best friend, and you need to treat yourself accordingly. And though I have my own adversity, I really do love myself, and that’s powerful. I’m powerful, and so are you.

 

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/demibrooke/4168508990/

Artist credit: Demi-Brooke on Flickr

 

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil May is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film studies. Ruth is a transfeminine, non-binary person from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes.

Battle of the Bodies: Learning to Accept Ourselves

Why is it okay to call me skinny (generally accompanied by a disgusted face) and it’s inappropriate for me to call a heavier woman fat? Both comments are equally hurtful (depending on the individuals’ insecurities). And of course, this incessant debate stems from the current expectation that women should be thin and not weighed down by extra weight. But why is extra weight deemed unattractive today? Why is being thin shameful and envied? Why can’t both be mutually accepted and admired?

What people tend to forget is that no one has the same body structure or metabolism. We all come from couples that have unique body chemistries and even our siblings have different characteristics than us. For instance, I have three siblings and each of us have dissimilar body types than one another. Body diversity is a beautiful thing and it’s time that we all embrace it because no one’s body will ever be the same and fit into the mold society has set out before us. It’s not fair or rational to be upset with someone because they effortlessly (or with effort) embody the current fad of what makes women sexy and appealing today.

The ideal female body is a myth that continually changes in society with each time period. You will notice that during the Renaissance, curvier women were highly coveted; other cultures have marveled at women with mustaches (of all things), and Victorians admired pale women because they symbolized a sense of delicateness. Of course, this list can go on, and in other cultures and nations women are renowned for assets that Americans find odd. Even today when we look at the past few decades, there are startling differences in desired body shapes and beauty. So this trend with thin women will change and (especially with the many movements and campaigns created to promote women of all sizes) society’s tastes are expanding to accommodate curvier women, and those new groups of thin women not fitting the ideal figure will yet again be alienated by society. And all of this has been perpetuated by the media, beauty industry, and archaic ideas of fitness and health.

When we pull out our phones, laptops, etc., we are immediately confronted with impeccably beautiful women. These women tend to have slender physiques and flawless skin. We idolize these women because they look perfect and allow our minds to desire looking like them. It’s obvious the women in these pictures and commercials are re-touched to appear more attractive than they are naturally; we revere them because they are what’s expected of us. It’s a never ending cycle of realizing models are caked with makeup and/or re-touched and vowing to remember this, but it is our inherent need to fit into the mold the male gaze (coined by Laura Mulvey) has designed for us that keeps us at the will of society’s presumptions.

I personally find curvier women sexy even though it’s not my body type; this expectation that only slender individuals are sought-after by men and women is absurd and disproved in many ways.The expectations of sexiness stem from our patriarchal society and I find it surprising that being slender is in right now considering the high adoration put on hourglass figures. Contrary to this, we are lead to believe that women with smaller breasts, a narrower frame, and a definite thigh gap are attractive due to the media and how celebrities (who have personal trainers, chefs, and nannies) look. However, as the media is streaming these ideas into us, we are being brainwashed with flawlessly airbrushed pictures and videos designed to target our insecurities and make us buy makeup to cover our imperfect and un-like model skin, purchase diet systems/foods, buy workout equipment and videos, and so on. Society preys on our existing insecurities and creates new ones in order to fill a capitol need and maintain control through objectification.

So before you shame your body, remember that it’s unique. Although most of the women you see in the media are thin, remember that they’re not the entire female population; they were picked out of thousands of women just like you to maintain the female body stereotype and in almost every case, their appearance is not natural. Before you see a thinner woman and think, “She’s so skinny. I bet she never eats,” remember that that woman may have a health issue preventing her from gaining weight or maybe she’s struggling emotionally and needs support. And before you see a heavier woman and think, “She’s so fat. She needs to lose weight,” remember that she may have a health issue making her gain weight or is struggling emotionally and needs help. It’s paramount that we don’t judge because we don’t understand what other women are going through and it’s not our job to evaluate how well they fit in society’s frame of the ideal woman.

When it comes to our bodies, let’s look inward at ourselves and dig for our redeeming qualities; this’s not always easy, but essential in building our confidence and having the strength to appreciate the various appearances of others too. Let’s not compare ourselves to others, but appreciate and accept that we’re all unalike and that’s okay.

 

Photo: http://xonecole.com/beyondbeauty-11-images-that-celebrates-body-diversity-self-love-within-women/

 

mara-martinsonMara Martinson is a freelance editor, creative writer, and graduate student. She received her Bachelor’s degree in English from UW-Superior and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing at SCSU. She teaches ENGL 191 and in her free time, enjoys writing, reading, knitting, crafting, and spending time with her partner and family. Her creative work has appeared in journals including The Nemadji Review, Kaleidoscope, and The Upper Mississippi Harvest. Mara describes her work for Collective Feminism as feminist, capturing the occasional brutality of life and the emotional struggles we all face. 

Five Reasons Masturbating is an Orgasmic Idea

What better way could there be to “Learn to Love Ourselves” than by learning about masturbation? We have some great subthemes for this month’s topic, but there wasn’t one that called to me as much as this one. I feel like healthy sexuality is something that we miss out on in our society. After all, schools are woefully lacking in the idea of promoting sexuality education that teaches students anything about healthiness. I understand that sex is a complicated topic, but youth are actually left at risk when we look at our current sex education system. The only things I ever learned about sexuality (outside of romance books, but that’s a whole different problem for another day) was that sex was bad, I shouldn’t do it, and I would either end up pregnant or with an STD. Had I known more about my own sexuality, not just the “sins” of sex, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have taken so long in life to accept myself. There are certainly more factors at play, but if we accept our sexuality better, we will accept ourselves with a little more love and compassion.

So drop your stigmas and celebrate your sexuality!

  1. Masturbation, because of orgasms, has some great health benefits. Stress relief and being able to fall asleep better are just two of the health benefits that an orgasm can give you. Whether you are masturbating alone, or with a partner, just remember that it’s for your health!
  2. Practicing a little self-love can make you feel happier. It’s really the orgasm that is giving you happy feelings with the release of dopamine and oxytocin in the body. These two hormones are well known as happiness creators in the human body.
  3. Masturbating can help relieve menstrual cramps. While this isn’t 100% proven, some people are saying that when you climax, blood flow to the uterus increases, which can help relieve cramps. Did you also know that it’s possible to prevent vaginal infections by masturbating?
  4. Women who masturbate tend to be more confident. Sound crazy? Well, according to Dr. Kat Van Kirk, “research suggests that women and men who learn to masturbate early have higher self-esteem, and higher satisfaction when it comes to their sex lives later on.”
  5. Lastly, masturbation is a great way to know what turns you on. Because each of us are completely different, it makes perfect sense that each of us is turned on in completely different ways. If you know what turns you on, you can also help out your sexual partner(s) by telling them!

It’s sad to think that so many women are missing out on the amazing benefits that masturbation can provide us. Studies show that while most women over 18 have masturbated, very few of them practice it on a regular basis, especially compared to the number of men that do.

So sit back, grab your favorite toy, and learn to love yourself, literally.

 

Photo credit: Huffington Post

 

melissa-anne-frankMelissa Anne Frank is majoring in both Women’s Studies and English Rhetoric at St Cloud State University.  She plans on continuing her education with a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate.  Melissa is a white, cisgender, pansexual who is proud to be part of the Social Media team at the St. Cloud State Women’s Center Melissa also writes a personal blog called Musing with Melly on WordPress. Melissa loves reading, writing, video games, spending time with her partner and two children, and crushing the patriarchy. 

Black Cool

By Sharai Sims

I have started a new phase in my life. I am a black woman, 22 years old, and living in rural Minnesota, ­­ where assimilation is a must for social acceptance. For so many years, I thought I was accepted because of my light skin and the ability to flat iron my hair so bone straight that you never saw my nappy roots at the nape of my neck.  I thought it was the traces of whiteness in my family line that separated me from the other black kids. Just as ambiguous as my looks, I couldn’t be placed nor did I try to limit myself when moving through social crowds and groups.  I was accepted seamlessly.

Because of the necessity I felt to assimilate, I never acknowledged the things that were actually setting me apart: my humor (black), my style (black), and my insight (black).

When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember a party that my white friends were throwing. At the party, all the popular girls (there were about nineteen of us) wanted to do a group shirt saying “sophomore class of 2012.”  Funny, I was actually flattered to be considered a) popular and b) the only black person invited, even though our whole school was pretty diverse.

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Special Edition: Critiquing the Critique

Women on Wednesday is a critical program with a rich, 26 year history of highlighting the voices of diverse, intelligent, savvy and  creative people, especially women working to end sexist oppression and promote a safe, inclusive and engaged community through advocacy, education, alliance-building and women’s leadership.

On March 30th, the Women’s Center hosted Vednita Carter and Joy Friedman from Breaking Free, one of the nation’s leading organizations for working with victims and survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, at a Women on Wednesday session titled “Sex Trafficking 201: Dynamics of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking.” We’re excited to report a record-breaking audience of 157 for this engaging presentation from two survivors about the realities of the sex industry and the experiences of prostituted women. (Follow this link to listen to an audio recording of the session and hear their powerful stories yourself!)

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