Emily is a rising senior and worked this summer as a Development Intern at Sanctuary for Families.
I’m a huge fan of brain-teasers. From crossword puzzles to riddles, it fascinates me how the brain can absorb, sort, and organize information in order to make sense of such puzzles. In a psychology class my freshman year, I remember a professor displaying optical illusions on a PowerPoint and asking us what we saw. Someone shouted, “An old woman’s face!” Another person argued, “No, a young woman with her head turned!” They looked like black and white blobs to me. The professor smiled and said they were both right. He then outlined the details of the shapes and how they were connected to in fact form two different pictures, one of an old woman’s face and the other of a young woman with her head turned. Once he showed us how the pieces of the illusion worked together to form a complete object, it was just so obvious, how did I miss it?
Different students saw different images and some saw none at all, but once the whole picture was pointed out to us, we all began to make the connections. As humans we choose to absorb different kinds of information based on what we are paying attention to or based on what we have been taught. Sometimes we don’t see the broader picture unless we allow those who have found the links and pieced together a full picture to show us. I guess I could say my summer is like that optical illusion: one of realizing the connections between people, between ideas, between the struggles many of us face such as racism, classism, and sexism. And these connections allow us to share a common goal in creating a society in which none of us feel the burden of any of these forms of discrimination.
In the beginning of the summer, I had no idea how feminism would fit into the work I was doing at my internship. I was convinced the seminars, readings, and reflections were simply there to add stress to having to adapt to living in a new place—not to mention this new place was the jungle of New York City, it truly is its own world—and having to adjust to keeping up with a near full-time job. I gradually reformed this opinion as I began to realize the concepts I was learning in seminars, those of money, power, and activism, were constant considerations in the work my organization does.
It was one week not too far back that I began reading the articles for my seminar, and it was about the ways in which women in poverty are at a disadvantage to become economically self-sufficient because of policies that are in place. These policies, which focus on job placement in minimum-wage jobs, are often influenced by the stigma associated with women of poverty. This cycle of poverty is perpetuated when public policy makes it difficult for poor women to gain access to higher education in order to find living-wage jobs that will help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.
After reading half the article, my supervisor called me in to discuss my project for the week. He wanted me to write a grant proposal for Sanctuary’s Domestic Violence Workforce Initiative. I read through the project background and a lightbulb went off. The model Sanctuary advocates for is the same that the article advocates for! I jumped out of my chair and ran into my supervisor’s office to show him the article. He was just as excited and asked if I would send him a copy. At that point I realized I’m not reading these articles and discussing topics such as feminism and politics in my seminar as a means to an end. I’m not going to write a research paper, get a grade, and be done with this information. These lessons, these theories, these skills I’m learning in my job and in my seminars and readings are valuable assets to my development personally and professionally.
The way in which I view our society and the way in which I’m going to approach helping others have changed. Discussions concerning feminism, the values, beliefs, and issues surrounding the concept, have helped create a more complete picture of the world in which I live. Though I knew it was right to try to make the world an equal place for everyone, I didn’t understand why. What do I have in common with those who come from different backgrounds, those who differ from myself in race, class, or culture?
The answer is actually a lot. Though I may not look the same as others on the surface, we are connected as human beings, deserving of equal rights and opportunities, who are living in a society that deems some as unequal and undeserving of these rights because they look or think differently. As someone who comes from a place of privilege in terms of my access to resources such as education and connections with others who maintain similar goals, I feel compelled to use the resources I have to work toward making our society not only a more equal place for myself but also for others who face discrimination as well. But it’s also critical for me to keep in mind that my needs may not be the same as those in the community in which I’m helping, and thus the ways in which I approach this fight should be one that reflects the voices and needs of the community, and not necessarily my own.
It’s all about recognizing and being willing to understand that the world looks different to different people. The struggles I face as a white woman may not be exactly the same as the struggles of a black man or of a homosexual couple, but we are united by a common desire for equal rights, for the freedom to make choices. Whether you are the person who sees the old woman’s face, the person who sees the young woman with her head turned, or the person who sees nothing at all, the details you do see are connected to create a broader picture.