As we move through life, we are constantly inundated with information about the world around us and about ourselves. We are cultured into adopting identities and ways of thinking that best fit the expectations we're born into. The feedback we internalize throughout our lifetimes quickly become truths. The thing about truth is that, really, it's pretty subjective. We're all given lists of things we are allowed to be and things we aren't. Whether it's about our gender, sexuality, or personality as a whole, it can require a great deal of bravery to be who we are. Sometimes we learn that we're not enough, sometimes we learn that we're too much, and some of us are taught that who we are is pretty simply wrong. That's a lot of burden to carry. It's also not a burden any of us ever have to carry alone. We can be soft, strong, powerful, timid, lovely, and real all at the very same time. With that, I'll let you move on to the real champion of this message, my friend, classmate, and future therapist extraordinaire, Meredith.
I am Meredith. I am a feminist. And I am... Driven, compassionate, maternal, really silly, transparent, genuine, bold, outspoken, empathetic, a future therapist, and an energetic joyful person.
"The identity of a feminist is an underlying one. It doesn’t have to be a big statement. It can be, but it also colors everything I say and do. Everything I want for the world is impacted by this part of my identity. I really believe in empowerment of women. I don’t think feminism is really much about what I do and believe and is more about being empowered and holding up other women to be empowered, too. It’s about being comfortable enough to speak up and make moves toward real equality and giving all women the space to be heard and feel comfortable in their own voices. As much as it’s part of my identity to be a feminist, it really is so much more of a me and… thing. It’s me and other women. It’s loaded because of the negative connotations that come along with it. It isn’t about who we hate or disagree with. It’s about who we are and allowing people who have historically not been heard the space to actually speak. It’s a sisterhood. It’s also not just for women and female identified people. Feminism is trying to equal the playing field because the system isn’t good for any of us. It’s limiting, belittling, and not helpful.
Mostly, this lens impacts my level of tolerance for bullshit. Especially now because of the things that have been happening, the Me Too and Time’s Up movements specifically, it’s now so much more clear that we’re all done with the status quo behavior of the past. I’m done putting up with this behavior and being treated the ways we always have. I’m even done hearing women talk poorly of themselves because of how ingrained it is in the patriarchal society.
Because I’m not soft spoken, very outgoing, and unapologetic about my thoughts and opinions, I think can come across as brash and hard. Coupling that with having the label of feminist definitely affects how people see me. Really, that’s not the case at all. Often times, I’m seen as too much. I’ve been told that too many times to count. Sometimes, I see myself that way too. In a lot of ways, other people tell us who we are. It can make people really uncomfortable when we push against the ways things are supposed to be. Women have long been expected to be soft, warm, kind, and soft spoken. I am soft, warm, kind, and will also tell you exactly what I think. We can be all of those things. I take up space and I’m not sorry for it. Which hasn't historically been really embraced by the world around me.
I grew up pretty religious and conservative. Especially in my experience of Christianity, those values are layered up even more directly. There you’re definitely supposed to be soft and motherly and quiet. The gender roles are very solidly set. Those expectations are really inaccurate to who people really are. So often, the conversations about gender roles come down to really tangible things, but some of the more destructive elements come into play when we think about the qualities and personality traits we’re ‘supposed’ to have. What happens to us when we don’t fit in those narrow boxes?
Being raised Christian means that those ideologies get really ingrained in you. My dad was really, really conservative. Rush Limbaugh was on the radio all the time in the car and Bill O’Reilly was on our TV at 7 pm every night. I was spoon-fed a lot of really conservative ideologies. It wasn’t until college that I encountered literature and got access to knowledge of my own, other than what I’d been told was true my whole life. I got a sense of autonomy through that and began to really think for myself for once. That inevitably led to a lot of pressure between myself and the conservative culture around me, but really also gave us a point of conversation about really important things. It gave me an opportunity to help people who are really important to me become more open minded and understand the world just a little differently.
It has been hugely important in my life to find spaces where I get to explore and try different things on for size. I’ve been able to find people and places that help me grow as a person, especially the people I surrounded myself with in college. College itself was really transformational. I had really profoundly smart professors who could guide me, but also gave me the time and space to digest what I was learning. My friend group was constantly talking about and engaging with rhetoric about social justice, gender roles, and everything else that was once taboo. Having a support system like that, one that promises patience and offers to walk with you, is so important. They were and are my safe space.
My dad was also a beyond driven, constantly intellectually curious, and unapologetic person. I’m like him in so many ways. When I channel him, it gives me the motivation I need to keep moving forward. I remind myself of the things he would say to me and know that I have that all within me, too. I want to cultivate and nurture those qualities of myself. The last year has been full of coming to terms with parts of my identity I hadn’t let myself explore until now. The more I allow myself to discover and be okay with about my own identity, the more empowered I feel to actually do things. For a long time, I was operating under a lot of different veils. The more I let those go, the more unapologetic I become and the happier I’m becoming. Interestingly, the more space I allow myself to take up, the safer I feel. Allowing myself to be true to who I am means that any negativity really affects me less."
What does love and connection mean to you?
"When people think about love, we think big ‘L’ love. We automatically assume a romantic partnership in which we pour a lot of energy. I like to focus, too, on the little ‘l’ loves. The love that impacts day-to-day interactions with people at a cash register or your friends or pets. We forget that love can actually be in every interaction we have with the world. It doesn’t have to be saved or set aside for one person and one person only. There’s power in connection. Where there is number, there is power. It’s what keeps us healthy and safe. It drives everything I do."
What would you tell your younger self?
"Oh, sweet sweet honey child. Sweet little bean. It’s okay to be who you are. The fear that you’re feeling is valid and okay. Give yourself the time and space you need to figure your shit out. You don’t have to have the answers and you don’t have to know where this is going. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride. You’re going to be okay."
Don't forget to check out the fun images from my photo session with Meredith over in the And I Am Project... Gallery!