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She Meets Herself

Parts of my path to self-discovery
by

Paige Pennigar

on 2 August 2013

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Transcript of She Meets Herself

A few weeks ago a classmate and I sat down for coffee to study for a midterm. What should have been a study session turned into much, much more—Unbuttoning Feminism was born. Below is the description of our movement, as seen on our Facebook page:

“Unbuttoning Feminism is a movement to reclaim the definition of feminism and the importance of the feminist movement in our society. To do this, members of The University of Iowa community are making buttons displaying different definitions and characteristics of feminism. Each button will be personally mailed to various places across the United States. Our hope is that you will consider the messages you encounter on the buttons you see and allow these messages to resonate with your personal understanding of feminism. Once you have taken time with that message, we invite you to pass the message along, helping us to spread the word.”

We’ve made 160 buttons in the last week, each button sharing a different message shedding light on the beauty of feminism. I was not prepared for the impact making these buttons would have on me, and here I share my story. Through Unbuttoning Feminism, I have unbuttoned memories I suppressed for years, recognized the beauty in new relationships, and discovered powerful truth about myself. It has been incredibly powerful, and I want to share my story with you.

As Autumn Whitefield-Madrano says, “This feminist is in the middle of a hurricane, unable to see anything but the individual drops of rain that, together, compose the storm.”

The buttons we have made are those individual drops of rain.

Feminism is NOT a dirty word. Join me in exploring and spreading the truth about gender equality. Feminism is not dead. This is only the beginning, and YOU are an important part of it.

It's time to wake up.
No matter how hard I try, there is no way I could sum up the last four years of my life. I’ve experienced joy, sadness, depression, loss, love, and change. So much change. I put my energy into many things that didn’t line up with my identity. I lied to myself, I began to lose the ability to love myself, I threw away many wonderful opportunities to grow as an individual. I was drunk on ideas but lacked all motivation to take action. I pulled myself down.

Rendered Inaudible.
Place me in a box and ship me to future. You claim to know each freckle on my forehead, each scar placed somewhere special on my body. Do you know each scar? Each freckle? My eyes tend to deceive me sometimes. So if you know each scar and freckle, each tilt of my brow, every crease of my timid smile, then why do you still stand tall in front of my body?
You stand planted like an Appalachian boulder with weathered edges. You won’t move. You like this place in the ground where you cover the earth with imagination. Right in front of me. Boulders can be moved. You will be broken from the sanctuary you rest upon.
I grab my shovel. I attempt to pierce the familiarity of your loneliness and shoot reason into those veins of yours. Are you an icicle or are you snowflake? Are you a puddle or a great aquatic?
I am lucky I found you. I love every brick and cloud that floats through the seams of your emotion. I love every leaf that lies dormant and crying in the pit of your stomach.
I don’t know how to use a shovel. I’m used to gardening in the youthful sense, with a spoon. Your arboretum floods my childhood garden, once filled with carrots and cucumbers. If only I could enlarge that Tonka Truck you used to play with when we were kids. You used it to transport your collection of little green toy soldiers. Now I need something to transport you.
I want to plant a seed in the basement of your brain. There are places on my skin begging for you to play me like a baby grand. Hold me. My heart beats deep beneath your shadow. Hold me.
Broken records surround you. Your mom used to make bowls out of scratched records. She did it in the oven, I watched her do it once, I remember. I’ll melt your pieces back together, I promise. You tell me the soil beneath your imagination is delicate, so I dig deeper. I thought you needed to be moved from your place in the ground. I thought you would see me if only I could move you. Hold me.
My shovel is useless, so I make use of my hands. I dig toward your sanctuary with intention. Listen to the vibration of my vocal chords when I tell you I love you. The dirt beneath my broken fingernails screams for the oxygen entering your lungs. The soil is dry and concrete, yet my fingers pry further towards the ambiguity lying behind your curls.
I can feel it. The soil is softening. I come to a hole beneath the territory of your thoughts. It’s dark and empty, almost as if it’s crying for a kernel of reality. Do I use the hole to boost you from this hard place? I try. Then I realize I’m drowning with you.

It’s time to wake up.
I hit puberty when I was nine years old. In the fourth grade, I duct taped my boobs to my chest because I didn’t know why my t-shirts weren’t fitting anymore. Mom tried to explain the concept of “breast buds,” over and over, but I just wanted them to go away. I started my period at the beginning of fifth grade. I wasn’t even old enough to know what it meant to bleed down there… tampons weren’t even on the table. I was not going to stick anything in there. Then middle school came around.I rode the bus to school every day. I hated it. There were two boys who lived in my neighborhood who rode the bus, too. I never told my parents why I hated riding the bus. They used to touch me every morning. We had assigned seats on Mrs. Brock’s bus, but that didn’t change anything. They sat in the seat in front of me and every time the bus driver would make a turn (so she wouldn’t be looking in the rear-view mirror), they would turn around and grab my breasts. It hurt. They’d say over and over, “you wanna fuck, Paige? You know you do.” I didn’t know what it meant to “fuck” until high school (call me naïve). I couldn’t do anything about it. They told me if I said anything they would make sure the bus driver would know it was my fault. Then they started telling their friends about my breasts. One of their friends was in my orchestra class. He pushed me into a corner one day, when our conductor was using the restroom, and grabbed them. I pushed him and started to cry, but he told me I would get in trouble if I said anything. I lost confidence in myself. I was objectified. I was not even a teenager and my body was being touched like I belonged to those people. This went on for two years. The people who saw this happen over and over next told anyone. I never told anyone. Until now. This happens to thousands of young people daily.


It’s time to wake up.
A letter to my friends:

Sisterhood. What a complex word. I have had and currently have so many fruitful friendships in my life. Friends who make me laugh, friends who make me cry, scream, confused, more intelligent, sometimes less intelligent. Friends who bring out the best in me, friends who bring out my emotion, and friends who give me reasons to smile. I’m constantly thrown into uncertainty. I’ve always been such a confident and independent woman, and uncertainty is not something I am used to coping with. Starting over in almost every aspect of my life has thrown me for a loop before, and another new chapter is quickly approaching. My confidence and independence as a woman has taken a new face in the last four years—a face I wasn’t sure existed until now. When I moved to Iowa City from Durham, North Carolina, life pushed me to take a step I’ve always had difficulty taking--letting trust into my relationships with others. I've experienced the power of sisterhood.

I have learned to be grateful for my challenges and notice where they take me. We’re catapulted into this war zone and have to pay more attention to what's around us because every second of our lives brings change. We have to learn to love ourselves as we love each other….because we are all unique and astonishing human beings. Thank you, my dear friends, my sisters, for showing me trust, love, laughter, tears, confidence, and how to be a confident and empowered woman.

“We’re prepared to look our sisters in the eye and respond to I can handle it with No, actually, you can’t. But together, we can.” –Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
Love,Paige

Sisterhood is so powerful.

It's time to wake up.
I ask you, why is that a confident man in society is viewed as successful but a confident woman in society is viewed as a bitch?

“Sexism is the root of all other oppressions. We are angry because we are oppressed by male supremacy.” –Ginny Berson from The Furies

I am a feminist. That has never made me a bitch.

It’s time to wake up.
There were a few openly lesbian girls in my high school. “She’s a fucking freak.” I remember people (some of my own friends) using that exact line in conversation.That is one of the reasons why I wasn’t comfortable enough to come out until my senior year of college.

Finally, I am confident that I recognize what Adrienne Rich describes as, “women [being] convinced that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable—even if unsatisfying or oppressive—components of their lives.”

My life doesn’t begin if I get married. I do not have to be with a man. I do not have to align my life with societal expectations. I do not have to be miserable.

It’s time to wake up.
Freshman year of high school: I gained weight, despite being actively involved with club soccer. All of my friends seemed perfect. The only thing I was “proud” of was my boobs. Those made people notice me. But I felt like I needed to look like them. So I did exactly what so many young women do—I stopped eating. When I did eat, I would run to the bathroom and get rid of it.

My mom noticed once. We were on a weekend family vacation to Black Mountain in North Carolina. We ate at a Mexican restaurant. I ordered a southwest salad. I remember exactly what I ate because I watched it float in the toilet twenty minutes later. She said I was going through a “phase.”

It’s time to wake up.
Why are women (and in some cases, men) experiencing these things? Why am I making buttons to spread messages about stopping the objectification of women and correcting the myth of what is beautiful? Why am I feeling the need to reclaim the definition of feminism? It is time to wake up, people. It is time to recognize the incredible things women have done to move our society forward and also see that there are countless things left to acknowledge and change. No more rape. No more eating disorders. No more hate crimes. More peace. More love. More gender equality. It’s time to wake up.
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