I wasn’t always so loud about being a feminist.
Back when I was a wee one in high school, there just wasn’t a safe space for it, not even in drama club. Fox’s Glee paints showchoir as a diverse place for the oddballs and misfits. This was not so at my school. I couldn’t share my views with the girls that I travelled thousands of miles with over several years. I limited my opinions to whatever social studies class I had that year, allotting one hour a day to watch my classmates roll their eyes and smirk at me. One hour a day to hear them deride me and condemn me to hell occasionally. They regarded me in nearly the same manner as the lone feminist teacher at my school. Joanne Finley was my neighbor and she taught psych/sociology, college level American history and intro to political science. One of her fellow instructors even called her a “Commie” on tests and in lecture. Joanne was a good teacher, but admittedly kind of spastic and sometimes had trouble seeing when students were on her side. So you see, my allies were few in this white-washed, rural high school.
Then I went to college. The quintessential University with towering oak trees and stately architecture. Mizzou came to me in this pretty package, a present for not self-destructing and a promise that there are better places in the world than Pleasant Hill. I wasn’t afraid that I wouldn’t make friends. There were 30,000 people at this school ( that’s like 5 of my hometowns) and sure more than a few would want to hear what I had to say. I found the Women’s Center my first full day on campus. I was with my Freshman Interest Group and we sat down in the soft lighting of the old WC in Brady Commons. I met Katie Blair. I met Struby. And I knew I had found people who wouldn’t roll their eyes at me. Before I knew it, I was gainfully employed in this warm, loving space. Who knew you could get paid to learn about the patriarchy, loving your body, and how to help other women? I was immersed in all these resources that I had been clamoring after since I could understand how our electoral system worked. A library full of books and films was at my disposal. Then I met Suzy Day. Our discovery of a shared experience in the same high school and show choir resulted in much screaming and hugging. She was proof to me that I could do well here, that I didn’t have to go back home.
Even after we had to move to an unfamiliar office, merging with other departments, Women’s Center staff worked together as a strong unit. It was an adjustment, to be sure, but feminists are good at adapting. We have a strong matriarch to guide the way. What’s more, no matter what building housed us, we were friends. Some of us were and still are best friends. Cliche as it sounds, you are a Women’s Center staff member for life. Even if you move far, far away.
My growing-up experience isn’t that special. There are thousands of girls like me who feel stifled and trapped in small towns all over this country. They all need somewhere like the WC and that is one of the reasons I’m staying here in Missouri. So that I can try to shine a light into the rural communities here and teach high school girls that their personality is more important than their virginity. Or maybe, someday, a girl will meet me on her first day at college and feel like she has a home and a family where the wasn’t one before.