By: Paola Aguilar
This time last year, I was finishing my first Women’s and Gender Studies class and had learned so much about things I never knew about. I went into the class thinking I was fairly well-versed about the issues surrounding people within different intersections of identities and came out realizing how much I needed to learn. While I’ve always felt strongly about the things I believe in, I never wanted to go to demonstrations or start any sort of movement on campus for fear of stirring things up or making changes in places where I thought were not all that necessary.
After that first class, I studied feminist theory and started reading the news as often as possible. I was getting a more in-depth look at different aspects of feminism while reading in the news about unarmed African-Americans dying as a result of police brutality, about women being sexually assaulted on college campuses and being ignored, and about a presidential candidate who said women who have abortions should be punished. By the end of the Spring 2016 semester, I was fed up with the state of things in our country and decided I would take even small opportunities to do what I could to make a difference and positive changes in my community.
One of the first things I did this semester was audition for The Vagina Monologues. I don’t have any theater experience, but went out on a limb because I had seen the production before and really enjoyed it. My thought was, the worst that could happen was that I didn’t get a part however, I did end up getting cast. I believe in the purpose of TVM and while we have only had a few rehearsals thus far, I can barely put into words the magic that happens when a group of women come together to work for something greater than themselves. Had I not taken the first and simple step of auditioning, I wouldn’t have witnessed what I have or learned what I have about myself and other women. I’ve heard personal stories from other cast members and learned more about what the V-Day Campaign does worldwide to end violence against women and girls. I have learned about how our production of TVM is a part of that greater mission. As nervous as I may have been when I first auditioned, those nerves were worth what I have already gained from this experience.
I attended and spoke at my first demonstration after the election. It was during a time that I was upset and angry about the results and even though I was out of my comfort zone, I went to the demonstration. I went alone—I didn’t even have a sign with me because I had procrastinated making one all week, but I went. Even just standing and chanting with the crowd felt comforting. Feeling what a group of people could organize in only a few days to channel their frustration into a message of peace and love against a message of hate was one of the most touching experiences I have ever had. When the opportunity to speak came up, I took it and didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to say when I was in line but I ended up speaking from the heart. I spoke about my own experience and the importance of staying together. Just being present for that demonstration gave me a sense of solidarity when I needed it more than ever. I spoke because it’s what I felt I needed to do in that moment.
Even just writing for the Women’s Center—at face value it may seem like a small undertaking because of the minimal impact it has on the world as a whole. Ultimately, even if nobody read my posts, I personally developed in my writing about and processing difficult issues. Writing for the blog has allowed me the opportunity to publish my inner-most thoughts to my community and to realize how many people wanted to read more.
The feminism that I was living by before was mediocre at best. I knew my theory, I shared things on Facebook, but I saw feminism as a noun rather than a verb. I thought that believing in feminist ideals and promoting them within my social circle was enough to call myself a feminist. I had yet to really be willing to put myself out in the public eye. To have those ideals challenged by people I have known since I was young was difficult—but for your beliefs to be challenged makes them so much stronger. I found even more reason to act on my feminism and truly be the activist I want to be.
If you think that being an activist is too large of an undertaking for you: you don’t need to chant at a protest to consider yourself an activist. Find your medium for activism. Whether it’s through writing, speaking, drawing, painting, or even just listening and being present. Find your talent and use it as a platform to share the things you care about to other people. Finding my voice and a way to express my ideas has been an amazing way to begin living an actively feminist life.