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. 

Advertisements

#UniteCloud in the Wake of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Part 2:

Non-Latinx people, especially white folks, even if they’re queer and/or trans, need to know that we are not all Orlando because we all do not share these same experiences with violence that members of this particular community do, and that’s really important to understand. As Tatum says in “The Complexity of Identity,” “The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others.” That is why non-Latinx, but especially white queers and trans folks cannot go around acting like “This could have just as easily been me!” We definitely experience violence, but not nearly at the same rates or in the same form that queer and trans people of color do. White queer and trans people still have white privilege and are totally capable of perpetuating racism and white supremacy. We are not somehow not white privileged anymore because of our queerness or transness. We are simultaneously privileged and oppressed (at least in these specific ways), so we cannot carry on pretending that this could have just likely been a massacre of white people or completely erase the racial/ethnic aspects of this hate crime altogether in the name of utterly useless and actively harmful “color blindness,” which I’m sorry to say to all of the so-called whites for equality out there, isn’t fucking real. It’s just irresponsible.

Speaking more about social responsibility and acknowledging our oppression of others, we must not allow the violent actions of this one Muslim man speak for an entire worldwide community of Muslims. Islamophobia was already horrendous in the United States following the terrorist attack on the twin towers back on September 11, 2001, but now in this post 9/11 world with our worsening political climate before and after this most recent election, Islamophobia and hate crimes against perceived Muslims has been on the rise and putting Muslims in serious danger. Even if Omar Mateen identified as an Islamic extremist, we must recognize that Islamic extremists only account for a very small fraction of a percentage of the worldwide population and are not any more violent as people from other religious groups, like Christians, but violence perpetuated by white Christians are never labeled as terrorism or attributed to the zealous religious affiliations of the attacker. We as queer and trans people especially have, and must continue to be outspoken against Islamophobia, and make it abundantly clear that we refuse hateful violence against us to be used as justification for more bigoted, hateful violence against other groups (though there are plenty of people who are Muslim and queer and/or trans). We must fervently denounce these divisionary and Islamophobic tactics and instead be grateful for all of our queer and trans Muslims as well as Muslim allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

Now after analyzing the violence and aftermath of implications, I shall return to the post from #UniteCloud. It’s short and sweet, and I think they did a nice job of highlighting people’s feelings after such a tragedy took place and also does a great job of combating Islamophobia with a nice little quote from Haji Yusuf calling for solidarity between Muslims and LGBTQ+ folks (though like I said before, you can definitely be both). And then Natalie offers a message that LGBTQ+ folks matter every day, not just when such a tragedy takes place, and that we must listen and take care of each other.

In summation I think the brief blog post provides a pretty good synthesis of the event, I only wish there was more analysis like the one I have provided here. They didn’t use the problematic #WeAreAllOrlando either, so that’s a definite plus! I appreciate some of the community recognizing that what #UniteCloud has done and will continue to do as grassroots activism is the best, though our politics definitely differ (they supporting neoliberalism, whilst I am more radical). Community activism for the win!

 

Image: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/12/three-horrific-hours-orlando-nightclub-massacre/85788574/

 

 

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil Virginia May is a junior undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film Studies. Ruth is a genderqueer trans woman from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes. 

#UniteCloud in the Wake of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting 

Part 1:

Last semester, Natalie Ringsmuth, Executive Director of the local grassroots activist group, #UniteCloud, joined my class to talk about some of the work of #UniteCloud within their overarching goal of actively participating in the end of marginalization of all of our community members. After such meeting, I read a blog from their website and incorporated what we’ve learned through class discussions to analyze said post to better understand systems of oppression.

I read a post from #UniteCloud’s website titled “Orlando, You are Not Alone” about a community gathering that occurred following the massacre that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida this past June. The purpose of the gathering was to honor the lives lost as a result of this hate crime that motivated mass murder, and to come together as a St. Cloud community to show that they care about our LGBTQ+ community members. In order to understand this community gathering, we must understand the murders themselves.

According to an article from NPR titled “3 Hours in Orlando: Piecing Together an Attack and its Aftermath,” on June 12, 2016, an armed gunman named Omar Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and slaughtered 49 innocent people. But these people were not coincidental targets. Mateen planned to massacre the people at the Pulse Orlando Nightclub because it was a known queer bar, and the night Mateen planned his attack coincided with a Latin themed night, where the majority of the attendees and grand majority of the victims of this heinous hate crime were queer Latinx people. This type of mortal, violent outburst on Mateen’s behalf was a textbook definition of mass systematic violence. The victims and those traumatized by the attack were specifically targeted as queer and trans Latinxs and for no other reason other than their belonging to these marginalized groups.

However, I find it important to contextualize that although this hyper form of mass violence is not common on a daily basis, violence against queer and trans Latinxs individually and in smaller groups is an extremely common occurrence, most especially felt by Latinx trans women and trans feminine people. Violence against queer and trans Latinxs is nothing new, and is in fact extremely prevalent when you listen to the voices and stories of these people and their everyday experiences at the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and cissexism. Even if certain members of this community are not experiencing direct physical assault, just the looming vulnerability is enough to be demoralizing and induce suffering and unhappiness. Young says that, “The oppression of violence consists not only in direct victimization, but in the daily knowledge shared by all members of oppressed groups that they are liable to violation, solely on account of their group identity.” Queer and trans Latinxs are certainly hyperaware of their marginalization and vulnerability to violence. It is our social responsibility, especially as white folks, to not talk about this tragedy as if it were an isolated and erratic occurrence, but an act of systematic racist, heterosexist, and cissexist violence that has been occurring for hundreds of years, thanks to colonization.

Shortly following the aftermath of this tragedy, people from around the globe, but especially Americans, started using the hashtag, #WeAreAllOrlando as a way to show support and solidarity with those most impacted by the attack. While very well intentioned and seemingly harmless to some, after listening to queer and trans Latinx activists, it became quite clear that, in fact, we are not all Orlando. Community leaders like the wonderful Jennicet Gutierrez were outspoken about this and refused to let this massive hate crime be whitewashed.

Whitewashing happens when other factors, like race and ethnicity, are not taken into account, unreported, or completely omitted from conversations and public discourse surrounding the massacre. Everyone, but especially white queer and trans folks have the responsibility to not erase the fact that the people targeted in this attack were almost exclusively (if not exclusively) people of color, namely Latinx people. It is a dishonor to these people who survived and didn’t survive the attack to gloss over this crucial bit of intersectionality; if we really want to understand what provoked this violence and listen to queer and trans Latinxs to find ways to best prevent more violence from continuously occurring.

Image: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/12/three-horrific-hours-orlando-nightclub-massacre/85788574/

 

…Stay tuned for Part 2, coming on Thursday…

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil Virginia May is a junior undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film Studies. Ruth is a genderqueer trans woman from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes. 

The Filling, the Overflowing, and the Emptiness

On November 23rd of this year, I had the honor of being appointed to the Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet of Minnesota.

The Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet brings together nonprofits, businesses, and government to improve equity in outcomes for young women in Minnesota who experience the greatest disparities.

This cabinet has been a work in progress for years, but nowhere would approve it until Minnesota. It wasn’t approved until Minnesota because no government officials were on board until Governor Dayton. As soon as the idea was pitched to him, he was on board!

If our action plan works, this cabinet will be starting in many other states as well and for those of us in the cabinet, we will be a part of history.

There are about twenty five women on this cabinet, ranging from ages of 16 to 24 who are working with me to create an action plan to strengthen services and areas that are already working for women in Minnesota.

It is seldom I feel proud of myself but being appointed to this cabinet is one of those moments. My voice didn’t seem important until now.

But getting appointed to this cabinet a few short weeks after the election was conflicting for me in many ways.

Being a part of this cabinet was the hope that I needed in humanity and in the world I live in.

There’s a phrase that says ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’ and the election had me feeling as if my cup had run permanently dry.

After a few weeks of feeling absolutely empty post-election and then getting to be a part of this cabinet, it felt like the cup I pour from was overflowing.

But how does one keep faith in the work they’re doing when the world at large is actively working against them?

I have always believed in people and that they hold the power.

To maintain my full cup, I needed to be a part of this cabinet working to create change in a world that so desperately needs it.

At the first cabinet meeting, we each spoke about what made us decide to apply for a position on the cabinet. As each woman went around the room sharing what brought them to this cabinet, I had hope in the people around me and faith in the fact that people still care.

Each woman that spoke has known various forms of struggles and disparities. Each of the women has the desire to create a better world for all the people in it. Their passions ranged from healthcare disparities to racial profiling and beyond. Even though we all had different issues that brought us to this cabinet, we were a room full of people who cared. The amount of empathy and passion in that room was enough to empower anyone.

It was everything I needed to hear. Being in a room so filled with passion, I felt my cup overflow.

And I recommend becoming a part of something to everyone who is feeling their cup has run dry.

Be engaged.

Surround yourself with people who care and have passion to create change like you do because you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels empathy for others or has a desire to change the way that our world is going. And there is nothing more than to fill your cup up with hope.

Hope in the people around you.

There are more of us out here fighting for good than you think.

So my advice is to do whatever you can to find people like this because they do exist.

And people have the power.

We just forget that.

 

 

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. 

 

The Concert of Fiction and Feminism

I always wanted to make a career out of writing but never journalism. Writing things in a way that I had to completely detach myself was never appealing. It never made sense. I see writing as something intrinsically personal, to the person writing and to the person reading. Something that always seemed exempt from that level of importance is fiction.

The stories that have any semblance of meaning are those that are rooted in experience, rooted in the Truth that the author has found for themselves. There’s always a call, especially, for marginalized groups to tell their stories.  The call almost becomes an obligation when your people (be it people of color, of the LGBTQIA+ community, etc.) are all but absent in the sphere of literature. These stories become sources of inspiration, and I never got my hands on a memoir or something that could be comparable to my lived experience until I read The Joy Luck Club my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t feel a strong connection to the stories and even resented them and their depictions of Asian Americans. Of course, my feelings changed with age and understanding. However, from the beginning of my jaunt into literature I found I could always rely on the inspiration in fiction.

Fiction acted as what I call a gateway into the vast world of feminism instead of what some people may seem as escapism from the harsh reality of violence. Harry of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter arguably endured an abusive home life with his aunt and uncle forcing him to cook meals, only giving him the burnt scraps to eat while his cousin relentlessly bullied him. This is the reality that many children face in their daily lives and while reading about how Harry is then whisked away to a magical boarding school may seem like the very definition of escapism, the reader is simultaneously thrust into a world where there is a registry for witches and wizards based on their bloodline and a powerful figure is fighting for the eradication of those who aren’t pureblood. The series is fraught with corrupt politicians, an underground resistance movement, and culminates in a battle for freedom from this oppressive power. These young students take it upon themselves to lead the charge against what they know to be wrong, an example diffused to many children who are now old enough to lead the charge against the oppressive regimes seen in today’s society.

In children’s’ and YA fantasy novels, there is also always a clear celebration of the different. The different, in the world of reality, is a distinction that leads to ridicule and danger. Rick Riordan noticed this in his son who was constantly bullied for his ADHD and Dyslexia. Riordan started to tell his son stories of how this difference was a strength. His famous Percy Jackson and the Olympians series shows those very attributes as the marks of demigods. Heroes. Riordan doesn’t stop there. He has written openly gay, black, latina, Asian, Muslim and, lately, a transgender character. These representations have opened conversations on diversity in YA literature.

Living with ADHD, Dyslexia, and abuse in the home are realities that feed into the lived Truth that is so important to feminist work and feminist writing. The setting of these truths, in a magical boarding school or Greek monster infested Manhattan, do not diminish the effect that they have in empowerment and beginning conversations of the celebration and power of difference. In fact, it puts these discussions in language that act as good introductions to feminist thought and language that may be missing from common discourse.

The validity of fiction as a source of inspiration and feminist thought is on the same level as that of stories that are truer to reality. In childhood and adolescence, they teach moral nuances and often start to help develop an understanding of the surrounding world; its injustices, its diversity, how they interact and how they influence each other. It is fantastical case study with the potential to reach past the pages. The concert of fiction and feminism is the concert of theory and practice.

 

 

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. 

Free to be Me: Growing Up Multiracial in America

“What are you exactly?”

Ahh. The all too familiar question I receive either from complete strangers or from friends who finally feel like they’ve known me long enough to ask. To answer that exact question, I’m just like everyone else. I’m human! But I’ve learned that when someone asks me this, I should assume they are asking about my ethnic background. And even though most don’t mean anything offensive by that poor choice of wording, it still makes me feel like I’m the other or that they’re trying to fit me in one box. To answer the intended question, my mom is part Mexican and part Spaniard while my dad is Khmer (Cambodian) and Chinese.

As if growing up wasn’t confusing enough, I was also constantly battling how I identified myself. There would be phases of my childhood when I was ashamed to be Hispanic and fully embraced my Asian side. Then there were times when I despised the Asian side of me and claimed only the Hispanic part. It’s alright feeling like you identify as one more than the other(s), but that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I was always hating part of who I knew I already was.  As someone who moved to a small town in Minnesota with a predominantly white population from a diverse area of Houston, Texas, I faced different challenges depending on where I was.

When growing up in Houston, it was always the struggle of being enough of my ethnicities. I was either not a real Mexican because I wasn’t a full one or because I didn’t speak Spanish. I would go home and watch a lot of Mexican novelas on Univision just so I could fit in and prove I was Mexican to my classmates. And sometimes I was told I wasn’t Asian enough because I didn’t speak Khmer or get the top grade in math. No matter where I was or who I was with, I was an outsider.

When I moved with my mother and older sister to rural Minnesota, it was a different situation. This time instead of trying to be enough Hispanic or enough Asian, I was spending all my energy to abandon both identities and be white. In my mind, to be white in small town, Minnesota was to be accepted. It seemed to be working because I was getting invited to sleepovers, parties, and people were even coming to mybirthday parties. But it was still there. The racial remarks were still there. Although not directed at me, they could sometimes tell that it made me uncomfortable. They would then turn to me and say “Oh, but you’re not a fullAsian (or Hispanic), so it doesn’t apply to you!”

So I resorted to smiling and laughing along with them. I chose not to make a scene out of fear of rejection and I just took it. I felt the intense need to fit in. And it wasn’t long until being multiracial was used against me. When I got the top score in the grade for the state writing test, I was told that an Asian must have graded my paper. I was laughed at when I brought homemade salsa and fresh tamales to a potluck because my “Hispanic side was coming out.” No matter how hard I tried to be white, I was always reminded that I wasn’t. I was different. In a small school with the majority being white, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Soon enough, I started getting tired of hiding who I was. I realized that I was only fooling myself and I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I started taking pride in standing out. I am different and that is a good thing. Sure, I won’t always have the most pleasant experience when my race is brought up in conversations, but that’s not my problem. Other times people are just genuinely curious and want to learn more about something they’ve never known about before. Instead of trying to cover who I am or putting too much effort in being something instead of the other, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and share it with other people – regardless of how they choose to take it.

As I was discovering my inner feminist during junior year of high school, I was also finding joy in myself and the importance of intersectionality in feminism. The moment I chose to embrace every aspect of myself, I felt free. I’m not some quiet, submissive Asian you heard about on TV or lazy Hispanic. I’m not a pile of stereotypes. I’m unique.  I no longer felt the need to hide the fact that I am Asian or Hispanic. I finally felt free to watch anime without being ashamed, eat tamales every Christmas, talk Spanglish at random times, grab the chopsticks instead of a fork, listen to Marco Antonio Solis or RBD, get good grades, talk obnoxiously loud, not be ashamed whenever my mom is talking in Spanish in public (or dad talking in Khmer), and let my dark, thick, curly hair flow freely. I’m grateful because I am free to be me. I was always free to be me.

Photo: http://aas340olspring2013.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-identity-crisis-of-multiracial.html 

Mardon Ellen SoMardon Ellen So is a third year undergraduate student. She is majoring in Sociology and is on a Pre-Physical Therapy track. Mardon enjoys talking about social justice, intersectional feminism, health, running, and life itself. When she’s not studying or working Mardon can be found running, listening to music, singing confidently bad in the shower, reading articles and books, volunteering, or eating. She’s essentially a human being just being. 

But It Doesn’t Add Up

As I am sitting in my Social Work classes taking notes on what it means to be an advocate for social justice, I have to stifle an ironic laugh.

Here I am taking notes on how to advocate for social justice when I should be out there actually fighting for it.

Every day, I wake up and see another executive order passed and it makes it that much harder to drag myself out of bed for classes.

The world needs us, but we’re here taking notes on how we can create change.

What it means to advocate for social justice cannot be understood in the classroom.

Notes are not real life and the classroom is not how the real world works either.

So when you ask me to write about what social justice looks like in my notebook, I am dreaming of throwing this notebook out the fucking window.

Social justice doesn’t have anything to do with sitting in a classroom talking about what social justice could be.

Social justice is getting out into your community and working to create change there. It is starting person to person to eventually create a cultural shift.

Social justice is showing up when the fights are not just about you or showing up for people who don’t want you to.

Fighting for social justice looks like a thousand things, but it will never start while we’re trapped in classrooms.  Here we are stuck in classrooms talking about what we could be doing without doing anything at all.

So how does this add up?

How do we navigate our responsibilities as students, employees, etc. while still showing up and advocating for social justice?

Are there even enough hours in the damn day?

And am I the only one who is starting to feel burned out on both ends?

I wish that there were some answers I could find within a book or a sign from somewhere to guide me to the next step.

But there isn’t.

And time keeps turning and the executive orders keep coming and life isn’t slowing down for any of us.

So where does this leave us?

What can we do?

Although I don’t have all the answers that I’m looking for I do know what the stepping stones are for each and every one of us to begin to do our part to advocate for social justice,

  1. Keep showing up when support is needed. Show up for those who don’t have the privilege to.
  1. Be as present as possible as to what is going on in the world and what causes you can be a part of. If you can support it, do it.
  1. Become involved in your community: volunteer, get to know the people around you, and support those in your community. Creating change is a process and it starts person to person.
  1. Remember not to stretch yourself too thin. The world needs us to keep up the fight, but we cannot give all of ourselves if we are empty.
  1. Stay as informed as you can while staying sane. Know when you need to take a step back from the news for a day, but do not be so privileged as to fully step out of the fight because many cannot.

And lastly,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. “-Margaret Mead

 

 

 

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-Care Over Spring Break

Spring Break is nearly here! While you’re using next week to catch up on schoolwork, add more cash to your paycheck, or play a new video game (or like me, a tasteful blend of all three!) self-care is extremely important as we move into the final half of the semester.

What is self-care? Broadly, self-care is anything that allows you to take a deep breath, to center (sometimes, re-center) yourself in your own life. Doing intersectional feminist work is just as exhausting as it is rewarding, and it is essential to make room for yourself. Self-care includes everything from hugging a cat to staying off Facebook for a week to going to the doctor. Try answering the question, “What do I need?”

This awesome article talks about self-care, especially its importance to black women, and aptly quotes Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” That is, making time for yourself is not selfish–it’s connected to survival, which for some marginalized groups is an act of defiance.

Find more self-care strategies here:

Self Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible

Self Care Strategies to Reduce Stress

Even Non-Artists Use Art Journaling to Relieve Stress

How to Avoid Burnout and Still Help Others

Self-Care Tips for Activists–‘Cause Being Woke Shouldn’t Mean Your Spirit’s Broke

Enjoy break!

–Collective Feminism

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.

Calling All Writers!

Hey friends!  We are currently sending out a call for regular contributors for Collective Feminism for this semester, Spring 2017. If you haven’t already heard about our stipend, this post is dedicated to give you everything you need to know about it.

If you do have additional questions or concerns, shoot us an email at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu (you might even consider it practice for submitting future posts).

stipend-poster

If you’ve submitted posts to us already, you probably already know that we accept intersectional submissions of all shapes and sizes. From commentaries on political goings-on (which we have no shortage of), feminist reviews of movies and video games, to poems, stories, and even visual art. There’s a lot to talk about–and this is your space!

We understand that writing blog posts during the semester can be tough, especially considering homework, student organizations, and work. We’d like to offer this opportunity to help you out: if you submit three (publishable!) blog posts, you’ll be paid $60, and your work will be published on this blog.

So what’s the catch? First, all three have to be submitted and deemed publishable before you receive the stipend. We also have a contract for you to sign that details dates throughout the semester we’d like your post submitted by. (We give you ample time, and we’re willing to work with your schedule, so don’t stress out about it!)

Let us know you’re interested by shooting us an email at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu.