Musings of an Aging (Young) Feminist

When I was eight I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. By the time I was ten, I was sure I was going to become a world famous singing sensation. At twelve I started toying around with the idea of becoming the first woman president, or at the very least, a wildly influential Senator from Texas. When I finally started to realize I might need a reasonable and profitable career at about fourteen, I settled on becoming a choir director.

Today is my 24th birthday. I read a quote recently by Imelda Marcos that really resonated: “My dreams have become puny compared to the reality my life has become.” The ten year old me or the fourteen year old me or even the sixteen year old me could never have imagined that a movie bearing my name would premiere at Sundance when I was eighteen and change the trajectory of my entire life. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that this birthday would mark nine years in the feminist movement, more than a third of my lifetime, or that today I would be participating in the second photo shoot in two months for another mainstream women’s magazine feature on the leaders of the next generation of feminism.

There’s nothing like a birthday combined with being heralded as a representation of your generation to really scare the shit out of a girl. I wonder often if I did the only important thing that I would ever do when at fifteen when I started a campaign to get abstinence-only out of my high school and if I’ll spend the rest of my life failing to meet these huge expectations it feels like everyone has of me. I wrote yesterday about the suffragist Inez Milholland, who had an amazing and productive career as a speaker and organizer and then died at 30 of exhaustion. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve often thought that might be the best thing that could ever happen to me because I can’t imagine any experiences in my life that could be as amazing, surprising, and wonderful as the ones I’ve had in the past nine years of traveling across the country and organizing with young feminists.

Shortsighted and strange? Yes. Morbid? Definitely. But it’s real. And real is something I’ve been missing for a long time. I feel like I’ve been playing the role of ‘Shelby Knox’ for so long that I haven’t stopped to find out who just plain Shelby might be or become. What I do and say and write is definitely real and it’s what I believe with all my heart. But I also want to finally be able to believe that even if I hadn’t been in a movie or had a famous mentor or testified before Congress, people would still want to know and listen to the girl who gets behind on her emails and double books meetings and sets off the fire alarm making toast every single time.

Of course I don’t really want to die at 30. I want to write a book. I want to write several books, actually. I want to help make abortion a right so solid and undeniable that the protests of today will seem sad and bizarre. I want to help women achieve equal representation at every level of government and I want to campaign for another pro-woman woman for president and this time I want to see her win. I want to be an organizer in the generation that finally understands that all oppressions have to be uprooted at the same time and acts upon that understanding. I want, more than anything, to change the world.

But, I’m starting to realize, if I’m ever going to do any of those things I have to start moving more towards real. I can’t help anyone or be the representation of anything until I love me for me and act that way. I have to allow myself to be 24 and to sometimes be unsure and to be scared and to ask for help. I have to stop preaching self-care and start practicing it by remembering to eat every day and exercise and occasionally look up from my computer and all the injustices it alerts me to and remember that there are also many wonderful things in the world to do and experience. I have to stop thinking my past isn’t mine or I don’t deserve it and own everything, the privileges, the mistakes, and the successes.

I guess the first step to real is this post, which I’m terrified to put out in the world. Are some people going to think, “what a privileged bitch she is, moaning about her practically perfect life?” Sure, and probably rightfully so. But, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, a pedestal is a damn small space and on this birthday, I’m jumping off it. Not to my death, but to my life.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Musings of an Aging (Young) Feminist

  1. pennygirlpearl

    Great post and I commend you for giving yourself credit.

    “Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.”–Mary Lou Retton

    Cheers to you!

  2. Ingrid Husisian

    Happy birthday! You are a tribute to us all. I am so excited for your future. Lead the way, young feminist!

  3. Denise

    Happy Birthday!!! I wanted to share with you that you’re keen for recognizing how your life grows the older you become, and as a recently turned 30 year old, 24 seems light years away. I also have friends in the anime industry (voice actors) who have the public life and the private life to balance and I understand how it wears on them, it feels like you can make neither happy, but trust that both are understanding and you will go further. Congrats on another successful trip around the sun!

  4. megahammermaniac

    The gift you’re being given today is to live the rest of your life, and to be open to all the wonder and joy and heartache that WILL come.

    Approaching my 61st birthday, I am thankful that the values that drove me at 18 are still important…the belief that NO ONE has the right to deny another person their freedom based on race, gender, or religion, and that at the end of our journey in this life, our WORTH is based on how we lived our life…how we cared for those in this world with us, and everything else on this world we call earth.

    You have accomplished many wonderful things at a very early age. You can be thankful for that (*I* am thankful for that!). You have the opportunity to be a positive force for the values we cherish…and that force is powerful regardless of whether it results in additional achievements that can be measured by others or simply being in your heart.

    May you have many additional celebrations of your life, and as you grow, may your life resonate in the celebration of all of us, your fellow travelers in life.

  5. I’m so glad to hear you are letting yourself be yourself and show yourself to others. It’s so good. I love that you’re in my life. I love that you are a bold young female speaker. (And I can selfishly use you for my role model). But most importantly, I’m so happy that you are starting to brush off other’s pressures off your shoulders and just be you. Happy happy birthday. xoxo

  6. Joe

    I feel so sorry for you… as a 23 and a half year old, 24 is an ancient and disturbing age.

    Don’t worry about being melodramatic. If you can’t get passionate, anxious and petrified about your life, then you’re doomed to be dull. :p

    And as for the possibility of you achieving more as an adolescent than in everything thereafter, I should let you know that I hadn’t heard of you at all until recently and even then just via a few entries of the blog. It was only after some further research that I heard about your “bigger achievements” (which, though impressive, don’t seem to strike me with the same impact as the obvious perseverence you have had for your cause since then).

    In short, happy birthday.:-)

  7. Happy birthday!

    I just took down the fire alarm. Enough was enough.

    When I woke up on my 16th birthday, I thought, “Shit. I’ve accomplished nothing. I was supposed to be famous by now.” I’m still not famous, but I’m tired of being mean to myself every time I have a birthday.

    I want to hear the testifying in front of Congress story some day….

  8. As your old geezer feminist friend, enjoy your 20s. They shouldn’t wasted by burning yourself out.

    Hopefully in another 24 years we’ll still be celebrating your fabu life, maybe I’ll be able to join in on the dance party and you’ll have a wall of books with your amazing thoughts in them.

    Seriously, looking back from 35…You have so much more to do and experience. Enjoy it. You deserve it.

  9. Celladrella

    Thank you for putting pen to paper. I! a pot bellied male salutes you. Stand Tall You American Woman.
    The times are ripe for change. Take up the banner .

  10. Elizabeth

    Happy Birthday!!

    Balance is always difficult to maintain and fear will always sneak in sometimes. We all falter at times. The key is to a) continue your activism and b) reassess the balance and direction of your life occasionally.

    I want you to know that I found your blog/website today and you have re-energized my interest in women’s activism. Keep up the great work and know there are many who support you! Many are only a call/email away.

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