I was a junior in college when Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court justice—despite the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. It was a devastating blow to sexual assault survivors everywhere. The entire, excruciating confirmation process forced many of us to relive our deepest traumas from sexual violence that we carry with us to this day.
As someone who had experienced sexual assault as a teenager, I was constantly torn between heartbreak, terror and rage—especially when people around me would speak about sexual violence and women’s credibility in hypothetical, abstract terms. They would never know the pain of hearing others regard your lived experience as if it were a game of chess, or reducing your trauma to the object of political analysis and scrutiny.
In times of crisis and seemingly insurmountable loss, it can feel like things will never change—that we’d be wise to throw up our hands and give up. But thankfully, in the years since Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, that hasn’t at all been what I’ve seen from young people, and especially young women, around me.
Today, people my age and even younger have lived through unprecedented times: the shuttering of reproductive health clinics across the country; astronomical surges in the costs of health care, housing, education and just, well, living; unrelenting and preventable gun violence; a renewed civil rights movement in response to police brutality; and the rise of #MeToo, and its harrowing revelations about how normalized sexual violence is, especially for the most marginalized among us. The graduating class of 2020 is ending their college or high school careers with a deadly global health crisis, after starting their college or high school careers with none other than the election of Donald Trump.
We are clear-eyed about the challenges we face, but we know that the past and the present do not have to be the future, our future. Young women, and especially women of color, for generations have spent our lives on the frontlines of all movements for justice, and faced with the challenges of today, we are as relentless as ever, and determined to stand in solidarity with each other in the fight for a new world—a peaceful world, a just world, a world that leaves no one behind.
Through every disappointment, it must be remembered that feminist activism has always been about pushing boundaries and fighting tooth-and-nail for ourselves and each other.
In the months following Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and a subsequent wave of unprecedented numbers of women elected to Congress in January 2019, I embarked on a journey to write a book about the leadership and lived experiences of young women and activists of color today, in the context of the long history of feminist struggle.
My forthcoming book—”A Woman’s Place” (July 21, 2020)—is a reflection on the novel, ceaseless challenges faced by this generation of young women and people of color, in the context of historical, women of color-led feminist activism. It’s a book of essays and meditations on how the personal is the political—and conversely, how the political is the personal; on feminist identity and what it means today; on life after sexual violence; on navigating the complexities and abuses of the internet world as a young woman of color and feminist writer; and, of course, where we go from here.
“A Woman’s Place” comes out on July 21. The following is a short excerpt from the first chapter:
Why choose to be a feminist?
Many young women have gone far and above identifying themselves as feminists. Young women have become one of the most potent—and reliably Democratic and progressive—political forces in the country. Fifty-five percent of voters in the landmark 2018 midterm elections, which saw unprecedented numbers of progressive women elected to public office, were women.
For decades, young women have volunteered outside women’s health clinics to safely escort patients inside. They were the lead organizers and protesters on college campuses fighting for sweeping words and actions applied to different groups of people can hold very different meanings and implications.
Title IX reforms and justice for survivors as early as the 1960s and ’70s. They’ve always stood at the forefront of the fight for justice; no one should be surprised by the sight of young women at the forefront today.
Women, and especially young women, are the backbone of political and social-justice organizing efforts. They are running for—and winning—elected office, and they are on the front lines, unafraid and sharing their ideas for a litany of deeply progressive reforms to anyone who will listen. And even in the face of so much skepticism and condescension, young feminists have shown no fear in embracing the controversial, proudly fighting for rights in the realms of reproductive justice, economic equity, sexual violence, and civil rights that have long been deemed too radical, blazing their own trail forward.
Every aspect of feminist self-identification is exhausting, at times even debilitatingly so. The role of being “brand ambassadors” of the feminist movement is placed on our shoulders, requiring us to always take time and energy out of our already stressful lives to explain feminism and complex identity issues to those around us.
Feminism can sometimes feel like cognitive dissonance, simultaneously demanding deep skepticism and unbounded optimism. The feminist movement requires us to see the world for what it is and has always been, for all its needless suffering and bullying and devastation; it requires us to be rational and pragmatic and wary of institutions.
But the love and solidarity upon which the movement was built invites us to audaciously envision the world as it could be, if only everyone did their part. Amid a mounting, transnational dialogue of walls and barriers, of exclusivity and exploitation, often I find myself thinking of feminism as reinventing society from the ground up to respect and serve the needs of all people.
The ability to care—instinctively and reflexively, regardless of whether something affects the person directly—is strength. We draw strength from the knowledge that this fight is one we can only lose by quitting. We are in this fight not because it is easy, but because it is worth it.
I didn’t choose to be a feminist—most women don’t. I didn’t choose to be a feminist the way I didn’t choose to experience sexual assault as a young woman. I didn’t choose to be a feminist the way I didn’t choose to experience an early-stage miscarriage, also as a young woman. I didn’t choose to be a feminist the way I didn’t choose to experience severe sickness and complications from my birth control. I didn’t choose to be a feminist the way I have never chosen to be routinely sexually harassed for the way I dress, for my sexual and bodily decisions, for fetishized mythology around my racial identity, for my writing and very public opinions about feminism.
But for better or for worse, these have been the realities of my life. Lived experience makes all the difference, and any gaps in experience, I like to think, could easily be filled by a little thing called empathy. This is, ultimately, a guiding and defining trait of most young women, and everyone, across age, gender, or any other identity, should follow their example.