Feminism Changed My Life
It was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning in 2008, when I sat in my 11th grade classroom listening to my teacher lecture about the final unit of our English class. I remember this day so vividly because this day would change my life forever. I sat in the front row of the classroom in my black leather jacket and high top converse wishing the bell would ring so I could hurry to the art room and finish my latest painting. It was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning in 2008, and no different than any other high school English classroom until my teacher mentioned the final unit would be feminism. She began to tell us what we would be exploring and the texts that we’d be using throughout the next five weeks. She said that she’d like to open the conversation up to the classroom, and as usual my male classmates raised their hands and spoke before any of their counterparts were able to chime in. After a few people spoke, it wasn’t until one particular male classmate of mine began speaking and said, “Well, aren't women supposed to get married and have kids? Isn’t that their job?” I turned around so quickly in my chair, staring directly into his eyes, and said “No.” Although this moment was very simple, it was one of my very first click moments. This moment in which I refused to allow the voice of privilege speak to my experience as a woman. It didn't occur to me until later on that this moment would define the rest of my life.
After the bell rang, for the first time I left my high school English class feeling angry, yet energized and ready to take on the world. However, it wasn’t until college that I would really begin to understand the complexities of feminism and define my own feminist values. To this day I am still learning, unlearning, shaping, and reshaping my feminism. In college, I took several women’s and gender studies classes (you name it, I took it), but the bulk of what I learned wasn't in the books. It was in the real lives of the people I surrounded myself with.
During one of my very first days at college, I met a young woman who was involved with a campus organization at the University, Students Advocating Sexual Safety and Empowerment (SASSE). When she shared the information, I immediately looked them up. I found out where they met weekly, emailed their president, and did my homework. Needless to say, I was determined to get involved. From that moment on, I began soaking up the feminist dialogue spaces, the reproductive rights organizing skills sessions, and the late night copy editing of our feminist zine. Feminism was not just a theory, but a practice in which I wholly believed in. Some people ask me, what’s your religion, what’s your faith? My answer: Feminism.
I believe in the very radical notion that women-identified people are equals under all social and economic structures regardless of their race, class, religion, or sexuality. I believe that within these social systems of hierarchy we must find the ability to seek justice and resist notions of assimilation and complacency.
These very ideals bring to mind a current campaign that I am working for which is reinstating the Advocacy Center at Syracuse University. Throughout the US, over 55 colleges are being investigated for poor or non-compliance with Title IX. This is a very real issue to many of my friends and fellow organizers around the country, who are being told that survivor voices don’t matter. Recently at Syracuse University, the administration chose to close the sexual assault services center in order to consolidate resources. We are actively taking a stance on this and have garnered over 8,000 signatures to date. Every day we are working towards reinstating a comprehensive advocacy center that provides direct support as well as education and outreach to the campus community. Please consider joining our efforts here.
I think back on the last couple years of my life and wonder how different they would have been without that moment in my 11th grade English class. I often think of how boring it would have been, and then am filled with so much motivation and inspiration from the people I’ve met and the work we’ve accomplished. Truth be told, I think there’s nothing more challenging and rewarding than changing the world.
Erin Carhart is a fearless advocate for reproductive rights and sexual assault awareness. She is the former president of Students Advocating Sexual Safety and Empowerment and a graduate of Syracuse University. Erin has dedicated these past 4 years to campus organizing efforts and developing new leaders on issues involving reproductive rights and ending sexual violence on college campuses. In her spare time, she can be spotted watching the latest on Netflix including Orange is the New Black or reading the latest on the New York Times Best Seller List. To get in touch, feel free to email her here: firstname.lastname@example.org or send a Facebook request!