A Feminist Friendship, As Told Through Images.

Meet Madison. This is my best friend of about four and a half years. Together, we endured high school, and did some pretty kick-ass things along the way. Now, she goes to A&M, and continues to be an inspiration to me and many others (including her mom, the featured “Dolla Billz” in an earlier post, who Madison gets her badassness from). Over the years, we’ve changed and grown together, both becoming better and more “woke” (socially aware) through not only time, but each other as well.

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Thanks to Madison, I see that a truly great friendship is about more than just laughing and spending time together. Madi has inspired me to be a deeper thinker, a more caring friend, a more passionate feminist, and a generally better person. She has done so many remarkable things: one of which being that she is the officer of marketing at the A&M chapter of The Women’s Bakery, an organization which works to empower and educate women in other parts of the world so that they may begin their own businesses. I highly recommend checking it out, and you can even donate!

You can follow Madi at @MadisonJaco to see some of her adventures, jokes, and musings.

Growing.

It’s a universal fact that with new life experiences comes change. With that being said, it’s obvious that as a student goes through college and is faced with people of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and values, their own mindsets will be challenged. It’s a standard facet of the college experience.

The same is true of my own. In the past four months, I’ve traded out my conservative hometown for a campus blooming with all kinds of ideas, liberal, moderate, or otherwise. It’s exposed me to so many different belief systems and influenced how I see the world.

I also feel as though this blog has inspired growth. It’s challenged me to go deeper, to not only state what I believe, but to explain it to others. It was also an effective tool in strengthening my writing skills, a trait I must always be honing as I embark on my pursuit of a career in journalism. I believe this is something that I could continue doing, as it has been beneficial to my beliefs as well as my career. I noticed that my most popular post, with roughly a hundred hits, was one that was shared by a friend of mine’s mom, and thus it spread. That was also my most popular week. Through that I noticed the impact of social media.

I’ve made friends of various creeds who have made me question my way of thinking. I still hold the same beliefs near and dear to my heart, but I have grown more accepting and understanding of other viewpoints. I had always been around people with starkly different ideas, but now that I’m free to speak as loudly and clearly and with as open of a heart as I can muster, I feel as if I’ve grown in my ability to truly empathize with those who think differently from me.

No longer do I feel as if my way of thinking is ultimately right. Of course, to me, it is, but it isn’t so for others who have been affected by different things in life that have lead them to believe other things. Now, I feel that any viewpoint, so long as it respects others, is one that I can learn and grow from.

A Setback.

My heart is heavy. My heart has been heavy since Tuesday night. My reasoning should go without saying, but I will say it anyway.

The unthinkable happened. The seemingly impossible became reality. The threat to minorities and the screeching halt to progress unfolded before our eyes. Donald Trump became our president-elect.

This bothers me on so many levels for so many reasons. It breaks my heart knowing that the hatred this man has spewed was backed up and supported by half of this nation’s voters. This isn’t to say every Trump voter is racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or sexist. But it is to say that many are. And it is to say that many of his voters are, and do not see that. It hurts my heart to see fathers of daughters potentially jeopardize the progress women have made in this past century by electing a man who is so candidly okay with acts of sexual harassment/assault. It hurts to see how little value some people place on other human lives for the simple fact that they don’t think or look like them. It hurts to see this abhorrent behavior normalized, when it should be renounced. This nation has come too far to be represented by someone who shows so little concern for the well being of, well, just about anyone that has historically been oppressed.

It also bothers me because Hillary Clinton (who, for the record, won the popular vote), despite her prolific resume of service in the United States government, despite her tireless efforts, despite her unparalleled competency, she still lost to a man who has absolutely no political background and has made heinous assertions of hatred. Do y’all get that? She did everything right while he did very little, and yet — She. Still. Lost. Is that not just the most ridiculously accurate depiction of the reality of women? She was the most qualified, poised, prepared candidate, and an angry, hateful, prejudiced, unqualified beat her on the premise of making a country “great” again when this country has never been great for its entire population. Is that not what it’s about? Liberty and justice FOR ALL? Where is the liberty and justice for the entire demographics that this man has threatened?

I have hope for this nation. I believe in equality, justice, freedom, and perseverance. I believe we will overcome every obstacle in time. Even this one. I have to believe that. To the people who voted for Hillary Clinton as well: my heart aches with you. I know this is a devastating blow. It’s okay to mourn. To the people who voted for Donald Trump: I sincerely hope your elect proves me wrong. To the little girls who watched this election: you can do anything. I promise. Do not let this keep you from chasing your dreams. It is us, the little girls grown into passionate fighters, who will change this world. And we will create the world we deserve. I know right now it looks bleak.We have to keep fighting anyway. I believe in us. And Hillary believes in us, too.fullsizerender-1

A Heartbreak.

As a precursor, I want to make it known that no, this isn’t exclusively a feminist topic. But it is one that’s been weighing heavily on my mind, and it is one that I’ve found common ground with between my experience and the feminist beliefs I hold so dear to my heart.

Look. Heartbreak sucks. It hurts. It’s painful and it’s weird and it makes you question a lot. But a huge component of heartbreak, a defining outcome that determines whether you let it defeat you and keep you in a state of hurting or if you’ll rise from the ashes like a phoenix, is resiliency. When life breaks you down, will you be resilient? Will you use the pain to create strength? Will you stand up, dust yourself off, and become better from it?

The person who broke my heart isn’t a bad person. He’s a really good person, actually. Which SUCKS. I kinda wanna hate him, but I can’t, because he doesn’t really deserve it. Things just didn’t work, and I respect and accept that. However, that doesn’t mean coming to grips with that didn’t hurt like. a. bitch. It still kind of does every now and then. But I’ve learned so much about myself and life in general from it.

Being with him was fun. We laughed a lot, ate a lot, wasted time, and just generally were together a lot. But a strong relationship that does not make. It takes emotional compatibility, and that just wasn’t something we had.

Breaking up hurt. It does for everyone. It took a lot out of me, and I’m still trying to reach a point of being completely comfortable again. But one thing that has helped me an unbelievable amount has been my friends.

It’s been a few weeks of late night crying. Deep talks. Hugs out of the blue because it was apparent that a hug was needed. Silent understanding. Going on Tinder (yikes). Typical post-breakup affirmations like “he totally doesn’t deserve you” and “you’re gonna find better.” Not believing the post-breakup affirmations. Being physically threatened when I don’t believe the post-breakup affirmations. (Thanks, Kayla.)

But it’s also been a few weeks of ice cream, laughing, laying around in each other’s company, having a really good time and making friends with people I really didn’t see myself being friends with before the breakup (like his ex before me, who is actually really cool and sweet). It’s been self-discovery and realizing things I couldn’t have realized if I were with him. It’s been surprisingly good, and despite the occasional wave of emotion, it’s been happy. A kind of happy I didn’t think would exist without him.

I’m a deeply emotional person. Ask any one of my friends, and they’ll confirm that. I have so much love in my heart to give, and I didn’t understand any other way to use it besides to give it away to a boy. But this has proven to me that giving that love away to a boy shouldn’t be my first priority, or even my second or third. I should be pouring this love into myself. My friends. My family. My life. Creating a stronger, better me with that love. And one day, maybe someone will come into my life and share it with me. But until then, I will grow into someone who is independent, strong, capable, and dauntless, someone that embodies the feminist belief. As feminist icon Maya Angelou said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I will not be reduced by it.” I will blossom into a human manifestation of empowerment.  I will rise.

 

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Role Models.

Any feminist can attest to the strong influences that powerful women hold in their lives and beliefs. Over the course of my life, I have had the privilege of knowing so many brilliant, passionate, profoundly beautiful women, and having them shape and mold my outlook on life. It would be simple to dote on my female family members, as they are undoubtedly all of the adjectives listed above, yet I feel my strong familial attachment to them hinders my ability to separate their impact on me as a whole rather than my perception of feminism as it stands today. That being said, I’ve decided to speak of two women who have taught me invaluable lessons in empowerment, strength, and fraternity: my second mom Billie, and my eleventh grade history teacher, Mrs. Humphrey.

Billie, or as we’ve all come to lovingly call her “Dolla Billz”, is my best friend’s mother. She is without a doubt one of the strongest women I have ever met. In all of my emotional distress, she has been there to offer me kindness and advice, whether it be “kick his ass, who needs him?” “ice cream will fix this,”or what have you. She pushed me to never settle for less than I deserved, to always seek out the best life I could achieve, and to certainly never take shit from anyone. In all she’s seen in her life, she is still one of the most vibrant, goodhearted women to ever grace my life. She’s raising four fiercely brilliant young women to be as strong and fearless as she, and doing a spectacular job at that. For personifying girl power and constantly encouraging passion, I hold Billie to be one of the greatest personal influences in how I view womanhood.

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Me and Dolla Billz on Graduation Night.

I started coming into my own as a vehemently opinionated – while undoubtedly timid – young woman around the same time I got into Mrs. Humphrey’s dual credit U.S. History class my junior year. She had such an amazing reputation within the walls of my small high school: you were seriously hard pressed to find a single soul that didn’t at least admire her, if not adore her. Everyone spoke of her kindness, her compassion, and her genuine love for each of her students. I have never met a person more perfectly fit to be a teacher. It didn’t take long in her class to learn that. The thing about my hometown is that, as I’ve mentioned, it is largely conservative. However, she wasn’t, and she quickly saw that neither was I. She saw the insecurity I had in speaking up for what I believe in and in her own little way, she encouraged me to no longer fear what anyone has to say about what I believe to be right. It was from her that I developed one of the governing principles of my life: speak nobly about what is right and true, and speak it loudly. She pushed me to participate in class debates and from her, I found my voice. Walking out of her class, my heart was broken with the knowledge that she was retiring, but also full for knowing her and for her touching my heart as she did. She pushed me to do and be better, and from then on, I’ve owned my bold outspokenness with pride, empowered by the knowledge that my passion is an asset rather than a flaw.

These are just a couple of the bold, strong, passionate women who have taught me valuable lessons in empowerment and standing together, which are some of the strongest foundations of feminism itself. I have so much to owe to them; more than I could ever express in a simple blog post. I know that now that they’ve helped raise and nurture me in their own different ways, it’s now my responsibility to make something of these lessons they’ve taught, of this love they’ve given, and make them proud of who I’ve become from all they’ve done for me. Dolla Billz and Mrs. Humphrey, this is for you.

A Plea.

I’ll be not the first, not the last, but rather one of many (seriously. A staggering amount of people agree) to say this: this election, and our options, suck. And it really is pretty disheartening, because it’s my first year to vote. My strong-willed, fiercely opinionated heart has been looking forward to November 2016 pretty much ever since I found out that this election coincided with my eighteenth birthday. But these are our options, and now it feels wildly traitorous to my spirit, morals, and conscience to vote for either candidate. My vote will never belong to Trump. Never, never, never. However, I also find it hard to wave the white flag I vowed I would never boast, which is what I would essentially be doing in voting for Hillary Clinton, who I starkly swore not to support in March as I put a #FeelTheBern t-shirt in my online shopping cart.

It isn’t an easy time to be an American right now. Even further into the issue at hand is the fact that no matter who you’re rooting for (or quietly voting for, with a tinge of shame,) this nation is torn between two polar opposites. Seriously, just about the only things our candidates have in common is that they’re both white and they hate each other. No matter what happens here, half the nation will be severely disappointed. And when people are disappointed with their country, they aren’t quite apt to come together to make change for the greater good.

So what do we do? Do we hang our heads and suck it up, voting for a candidate we truly don’t like, but dislike less than the other one? Do we vote third-party?  Do we write in “Mom?” In all honesty, I don’t know. But I do know this: it has never been so important that we do vote. PLEASE.

Don’t vote for him because he’s a business man. Don’t vote for her because she’s a woman. Don’t not vote for her because she’s a woman. Vote consciously for who you believe is really, truly best.

But, remember this: the right to vote is one that has been fought for tirelessly by a plethora of minorities for AGES. (White) women, we haven’t even had suffrage for a whole century yet. Please, do not neglect the right women before us fought so hard for. Please do not squander what generations of women before us could only dream of. And please, vote for someone who values your gender as a whole. All of us, women. All. Of. Us.

Seriously though, y’all. Vote.

A Review.

For my review of another related blog, I decided to take a slightly alternative route — rather than review another pro-feminism blog, why not one with a completely opposite premise?

Women against feminism. Wowza. What a topic.

Disclaimer: I will admit that I was inspired by the parody twitter account of the same topic, which is pretty hilarious, really.

I must admit that reading through some of the points made on this blog thoroughly ruffled my feathers. How do you people still not get it? I just can’t understand how grown women can not grasp the simple idea that no, feminism is not about hating men, it’s not about trying to be the supreme gender, it’s not about wanting to have more than men have.

It’s about wanting to have the freedom to choose what to do with our bodies. It’s about wanting to take back terms — like “bad bitch” — meant to degrade and destroy us, and reform them into tools of empowerment. It’s about choosing how to live our lives, in a way that suits and liberates us.

And that’s when it hit me.

What kind of feminist would I be to preach about wanting women to have the choice to live as they please, but only if it aligns with my beliefs? Not everyone is going to agree with me. Not everyone is going to see a feminist mindset as the right one. Who am I to tell people that what they believe is wrong? Is it inherently hurting someone that these women don’t agree with me? Sure, it’d be ideal if everyone saw feminism for what it truly is, and far less frustrating, but at the end of the day it is all a matter of beliefs and values. It’s what makes life what it is: not everyone will agree, and it’s better off that way.

I know it’d be easy to critique how ridiculous the themes of this blog seem to me, how completely and wholeheartedly I disagree, but that simply isn’t right. I have to give the benefit of the doubt here, and reaffirm that just because it isn’t what I believe to be right and true, it doesn’t mean I can discredit what others believe. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I still struggle with it constantly. But I know it’s a core principle of what I believe, and to slam the choices of how other women decide what is best for them simply betrays that principle. I guess what I’m saying here is that even if you disagree with feminism, we’re still fighting for you — and all of womanhood, among humanity, alike.

 

Youth and Feminism

I was fifteen when I first learned what feminism really was, and subsequently declared myself an advocate for it. My understanding and perception of the movement has grown and evolved since then, as any belief should, but one thing that holds true is that this is one of my core, fundamental beliefs. This is not a passing phase due to my young age and naivete. This isn’t a poor judgment call that I still haven’t grown out of. This is something that I earnestly attempt to defend and demonstrate in each of my endeavors. In the least cliche, movie-esque whiny emo kid way… this isn’t a phase. It’s who I really am.

However, many beg to differ. People view me as too young to genuinely understand anything about the world and its inner workings. I’m judged as somebody who doesn’t have the experience to have any say about life at large. But I feel like that only strengthens my case. I have not yet allowed myself to be jaded and thrown by how cruel the world can be. I still have the drive to not allow myself to be defeated, to not let the world beat me down. With my youth comes the desire to reform the society I inhabit. I know exactly what I believe to be right, just, and true, and I apply that in my methods of reformation. This is a courage and determination that often times withers with age. But I am still young enough to possess such passion, yet old enough to understand what I must do with it. In the words of civil rights leader John Lewis, as well as on behalf of my generation that I have seen to harbor the same burning desire to simply make the world better… “if not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

To my fellow young feminists, please allow me to offer a word of advice. Those who are against and older than us will try to break us. They will use our youth as a reason to discredit us. They will refuse to take us seriously until we have grayed and lost our passion. But I beg of you, do not ever let this passion for justice die. Do not let the world change you. Instead, change it. And to those who don’t believe we can — just watch us.

The Awakening.

Many feminists, like equal rights advocate Emma Watson, speak of a decisive moment in their lives when they knew they were feminists, like seeing a  Frida Kahlo quote painted on a random wall in the city or a lecture in a class. This is called the feminist awakening, and it isn’t as eerie as its title makes it seem.Anyway, for me, it didn’t work out like that. I don’t know when or how it happened, only that it did.

I started calling myself a feminist sophomore year, and believe me; prior to then, I was an absolute heathen. I took the viewpoints of those around me and amplified (and perverted) them tenfold. I was like a small, five-foot, nicer looking Donald Trump. In retrospect, I can honestly say it was terrifying. I said things like, “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Unironically.

That, of course, isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the conservative viewpoints I believed I had — only the delivery I used to declare them. I was an anti-gay, kind of racist twerp. And those things are not okay. Not in the slightest.

I truly couldn’t tell you when this changed, because in all honesty, I’m really not sure. I just remember suddenly not being hateful or intolerant anymore. However, I feel as if deep down, I have always somewhat thought this way, but was too afraid to admit it because of the, ahem, Red Sea that was my extremely republican environment.

I remember being eight years old, wondering why the girl has to change her name when she gets married, and how unfair that was. Then, I decided to make my future husband take my name instead.

One probable cause that screams a blaring shriek of “IT’S ME! I DID IT!” is the bond I had with my sister as a child (which is funny, because she doesn’t identify as a feminist and pokes fun at me for being the family liberal, but it’s whatever.) From her, I learned kindness and compassion, and to stand up for what is right. I learned sisterhood, not only in the same-genetics kind of way, but in the broader, “all of us identify as girls and we’re in this together” way. Though we think differently politically, I have her to thank for at least sparking the fire that was my feminist awakening.

So maybe there isn’t one moment that I can credit as The Moment I Knew™. It was a progressive shift from the time I left middle school to my fifteenth year, and it is ongoing still as I continue to learn and grow. Perhaps we can deduce that middle school was the problem, as it typically is. Either way, I can firmly stand by the statement that though I can’t owe it all to one specific moment in my life, but rather a series of definitive ones that steered me in this direction. I believe I prefer that explanation anyway.

An Introduction.

Hi, my name is Jessica Harrell, and I am a feminist. (Hiiii, Jessica.) As this is my first blog post, I feel as though an introduction not only of myself, but of my feminism as well, is due.

I am a freshman and journalism major at the beautiful Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Even still, despite being here for over a month, saying this simple fact is ridiculously exciting. Here I am, attending the school of my dreams, pursuing my ultimate passion, in one of the best cities in the state; how could I be anything but excited?

Moreover, I am the stereotypical small-town-kid who moved hundreds of miles away from home on little more than a dream and a prayer. My hometown consists of just over 1300 people, and my graduating class was a mere fifty students, all of whom I felt close to because I had grown up with them. Another thing I grew up with was staggering amounts of conservatism and good ol’ rebel flags waving from dirty pickups; as you can infer from this blog’s title, that wasn’t exactly my thing. Situated comfortably in the Bible Belt and Red Vote Territory, Hawkins, Texas is dear to my heart, but it is no place for a bleeding heart liberal hippie like myself. So I fled.

I began identifying myself as a feminist my sophomore year in high school, and haven’t looked back since. Feminism, to me, isn’t a badge one could wear to a rally and shout bare-breasted, “MEN ARE PIGS!” Because they aren’t. Some are. But so are some women. Do you see the issue there? It simply isn’t right to use feminism as a guise to insult an entire gender. Instead, it should be used as a medium to inspire justice, equality, and respect among all identities and backgrounds. Intersectional feminism, my cup of tea in the cafe of beliefs that is life, examines and appreciates the differences between varying races, identities, cultures, religions, etc. and recognizes that what is necessary to ensure equality for one person may be more or less than what is necessary for another.

Originally, I internally debated whether a blog about feminism was a good idea. I know I’m no Neil Armstrong of feminism blogs; this isn’t uncharted territory, by any means. However, I know that feminism is uniquely different to each person who practices it, and I know that my experiences and beliefs deserve to be stated. And so, here I am, doing just that.