IWD Series 2018: You Are The Next Generation
Guest Post By Amelia Christensen
Amelia likes podcasts, ripping up gardens, and whale watching. She has two beautiful, curious, and emotional boys with her husband, and aspires to work in the mental health sector. Her heroines are Daria, Emma Smith, and Audrey Hepburn.
I remember her clearly. She sat on the floor in a pink party dress, her dark brown curls falling around laughing brown eyes.
The other girls in the class immediately flocked to her, and so it was, on my very first day of school, I already began to understand what popular looked like.
I don’t know what I was wearing; whatever it was must have been passed down through my sister. It was likely worn, and not particularly flashy. Neither of our parents worked, and anyone looking at me (until I was old enough for a job), knew it.
Boys didn’t notice or care what I wore, so they became my main source of friendship for many years.
Whether it was real or imagined, I didn’t feel like I fit in with the other girls. I was skinny and sickly, imaginative, and very odd. In fact, my first existential experience was only a few months into that school year.
If I went back to visit that little sprightly imp, I’m not sure she would believe that in the years following, she would grow a deep love for womanhood within herself, and the badass women around her. She would grow much more distrusting of men and aspire to be more than the conditioning that told her worth lay in being a mother and wife.
The process was slow, with one major requirement: exposure to other women. To all kinds of women, fictional and real.
I found myself in the principal, who sat in front of our class for special lessons. “What do you see in this painting?” she would say, holding up colourful specimens for us to dissect for a good hour at a time. “Retell the story of Helen of Troy in your own words,” she would request.
“Teasing that girl, and kissing those boys is unacceptable behaviour,” she would caution.
The odd, imaginative me wasn’t weird to her.
I found myself in Daria, the terrifically sarcastic realist. Like her, I saw beyond the surface level, constantly misunderstood as the misery chick, when I was actually a realist. She didn’t quite fit in, but she was cool in her own way, and did her own thing.
I found myself in the Croatian drama teacher with wild blond hair, who was the only female with the guts to tell me that I needed to do more with my life than become a Mother.
I found myself in Jane Eyre. As a child, she we as chided and despised for being passionate. I, likewise, was too loud and too opinionated, and I thought justice and fairness were far more important than keeping the peace. At some point, I crushed this all inside myself. I felt shame and hid my emotions.
Adult Jane eventually lets the strictness of Lowood unbind her spirit. She becomes fiery and forthright once more, only now passes into adulthood, a touch more bridled.
If she could speak up, be industrious, work hard, and get a life for herself, then so could I. We could both overcome obstacles and be more.
I continue to find myself in Rachel Hunt Steenblik, who inspired me to finally start studying, and who opened my heart and spirit to Heavenly Mother.
Without her, I wouldn’t be a Mormon feminist.
Coming to know myself as a Mormon feminist and progressive has required courage, the same courage required to be a woman in the #metoo movement. We are not believed, and modesty culture in the church is so often used as a weapon to slut shame women and take away the responsibility men have, to watch their own thoughts and actions.
I’ve realised my voice matters, and that I need to push back against this idea that any voice of change is a voice of apostasy.
How I wish to be like Emma Smith, the woman who stood before an apostle of the Lord to tell him the name leadership decided on for their womens relief organisation, was the wrong name. They listened, and the Relief Society came into being. I feel we are all Emma at times, scrubbing chewing tobacco from the floor, knowing that what is happening is not right.
Being a Mormon feminist and progressive has also required me to humbly recognise privilege in being white, western, married, and a mother.
It has required courage in pointing out these privileges to other women I care about, at the risk of alienating myself from them.
Harriet Tubman was the epitome of courage and compassion, the newest and one of the most important inspirations in my life.
Harriet, also known as the “Moses” of African American people, was born into slavery in Maryland, in the year 1822.
I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.
I have had the privilege of finding myself; but imagine being born into a life where not only your whole family history and culture has been taken from you through years of slavery, but your whole purpose in life has been decided, and that purpose is to be somebody’s property.
Women like Harriet know intimately the depersonalisation that comes from patriarchal systems, only she experienced this both as a woman, and as an African American.
When Harriet eventually escaped slavery, she went back to help others. It wasn’t enough to be free herself. Thus, she became a vital person in the underground railroad movement.
I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
The Underground Railroad was a movement involving a network of both African American and white people, determined to see slaves through from captivity to freedom. This movement would provide shelter and escape to the north in the still of the night.
Group by group, she initiated over a dozen missions at great risk to her own life.
The Underground Railroad began in the 18th Century and continued through the American Civil War. During the war, Harriet took on roles such as cook, nurse, scout, and spy. She helped many freed slaves find work, and she joined with John Brown to recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry.
Harriet was a suffragette, a woman who wasn’t highly educated or large in stature, but who struck fear into the hearts of slave owners, and constantly furthered the cause of women and African Americans.
As women, we all come across incredible odds, perhaps not as extreme as Harriet Tubman, but personal to us as individuals, nevertheless. We are misunderstood, undervalued, explained to, paid less, objectified, and treated like fragile creatures.
On this day, International Women’s Day, I want you to remember you are the next generation in a long line of strong, powerful women. They paved the way, and we need to access their courage and continue to stomp the path.
Be not afraid. SHE is with you and will give you aid.