Calling upon the past to pave the way for the future

As I wrap up another semester with ShoutOut!, I can’t help but reflect on how the past few months have continued to shape my journey with developing my feminism.  I began this semester with a piece called “Feminist Girl Meets (Real) World”, where I discussed my first encounters with challenges to my feminism in the real world.  I was so afraid that after I graduated, I would have to compromise my feminism in order to “fit-in” in the workplace.  I wanted to explore ways in which I could learn to adapt the ways I live my feminism, rather than sacrifice my personal politics altogether.  That has been my focal point this semester, as I maintained the roles of both student and employee (I’ve been working remote for a company focused on corporate sustainability while going to school). 

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to speak at the National Communication Association Annual Convention (NCA) with my professor on a panel regarding feminist and gender studies pedagogy.  The goal of the panel was for four student-professor pairs to communicate the effectiveness of an assignment in each respective feminist/gender studies class.  The professor and student were to discuss how the assignment chosen was a paradigm for teaching communication in gender studies.  My professor, Alison, taught my Feminist Rhetoric class last spring. We decided to discuss the assignment she gave my class for our final exam, in which we had to write a letter to an influential feminist.  I chose to write to Susan B. Anthony.  When I re-read this letter to the audience members in that panel, I was nearly overcome with emotion as I realized how full-circle my meeting with the “real world” had come.  In the letter, which I share below, I called upon Susan B. Anthony for the strength that she exhibited.  I wrote this letter shortly before I accepted my first big-kid internship, and expressed my fear of having to give up my feminism.  It was a sort of premonition for the challenges I would face in the unprecedented atmosphere of the work world.  At times, I felt empowered, and at others, completely helpless.

This struggle has been a constant concern for me, but as I read that letter aloud to the audience at NCA, I realized that the discourse I’ve engaged in, and the politics of feminism that I’ve learned and hold near and dear to my heart, have equipped me for any circumstance I find myself in, even after I leave the university grounds.  I will always carry my feminism in my heart, because it’s an intrinsic part of who I am.  Nothing, and no one, will ever succeed in taking that away from me.  I hope that this bit of inspiration will serve at least one of you who read this post.  Above all, fight for what you believe in, and even if your environment changes, remember to always be true to yourself.

And now, without further ado, here is an excerpt of the letter to Susan B. Anthony, written in May 2013:

Dear Susan,

My primary motive in writing to you is to express my respect, gratitude, and absolute awe of you.  While I have always known you to be an influential figure among the suffragists, when we studied you in my Feminist Rhetorics class this semester, I was even more inspired by your lived politics.

I can’t imagine the fear you must have felt as you brazenly walked from village to village, delivering your lecture “Is It a crime for a Citizen of the U.S. to Vote?” three weeks following being arrested for voting illegally.  In a period in our history where women were not regarded as equal to men (our inability to vote obviously reflected this larger societal framework of oppression), you stood up, and shouted your politics from the rooftops.  How did you find the strength and the perseverance to carry on and believe in yourself when you were cast down by the larger patriarchal forces at work?  To say that that couldn’t have been easy is a gross understatement.

I find your lived politics to be incredibly moving.  You never once faltered, or gave in to the enormous pressure to sit down and shut up.  When you were put on trial, you were continually cut off and interrupted by the judge, but you continued to press on and speak on your own behalf.  At one point, Judge Hunt demanded, “The Court orders the prisoner to sit down.  It will not allow another word” (155).  Rather than immediately acquiescing, you continued to stand and defend yourself, arguing that you weren’t granted the justice afforded to you by virtue of your citizenship.  Even when the judge found you guilty of voting illegally, and ordered you to pay a fine of one hundred dollars, you never paid it.  How hard must it have been to constantly have to reassert your right to citizenship, in the company of those who continually treated you as “less than”?  How did you stand firm and not give in to the pressure of paying the fine, of sitting down, and of being quiet when you were told to do so?

I recently had a conversation with some of my peers, in which I expressed my concern of going out into the “real world.”  Right now, it’s easy for me to be comfortable in my feminism, and feel empowered, largely because I’m surrounded by a strong, feminist support system.  But when I get a job, how will I deal with a sexist boss?  How will I defend myself when I’m being sexualized, or discriminated against?  How will I defend my politics if I’m surrounded by individuals who don’t believe in feminism?  So many women will back down, because it’s hard to stand up for yourself when you’re in an environment where you’re perpetually “othered.”  Even the strongest women I know have fallen victim to the silence in order to avoid conflict, or prevent from losing their job.  But you took those risks anyway.  For you, it didn’t matter if you were perceived as crazy, if you were imprisoned, if you were sentenced and fined.  It wasn’t important if some didn’t listen, because you knew that others would, and that’s what made the difference for you.  I admire that so much, and I hope that if I’m put in a situation like the ones previously mentioned, that I will have the strength and the courage to be as fearless as you were.  You knew in your heart what was right, and that was enough to keep you going.

I would like to thank you again for being such an inspiration.  You are a reminder of what it means to stand up for what you believe in, regardless of who stands behind you.  You lived your politics, and set an example of what it means to stick to your principles.  I carried you in my heart as I went to the voting booth for the first time this past November.  That memory wouldn’t have been made had it not been for your lifetime dedicated to your work for equality.  For these, I’m truly grateful.

Yours in sisterhood,


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