I was accepted to the Moxie Project. Great! Now I just had to tell my parents what it was and convince them that the strange-sounding program was indeed worth my entire summer away from them. No big deal, right? Well…
Let’s back up. My name is Kelly Atherton and I am a rising (Pre-Med) senior majoring in Biology, minoring in Global Health and Chemistry, and dabbling in Ecology when I have time. That all sounds very sciencey and technical, so you may be wondering what I’m doing here among self-proclaimed feminists and patriarchy crushers. To be honest, I’ve thought the same thing on multiple occasions. I’m not a women’s studies, history, or even public policy major. I’ve never identified as a feminist. My parents don’t tell me that as a girl, I can do anything I set my mind to. In fact, my first exposure to feminism was one class that I took this past fall. But one class is all it took to convince me of the significance of gender equality and to ignite in me a growing flame of desire to be involved in the movement to that end.
I was scared to tell my friends and family exactly what I was doing this summer, which is working at Choices Women’s Medical Center. I am from Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city that is over 50% Christian and 47% white. I grew up going to church at least twice a week and learning that sex was a dirty word. How could I tell my parents, who cringe at the words “birth control,” that I would be working at a facility that actually offers it and other services to women? I found myself masking the real meaning of the work with explanations like, “this will be great for my resume” and “it’s community service.” While those things are true, they don’t represent the reason I chose to commit myself to the Moxie Project. I have a passion for medicine and believe that women have the right to equal care and privacy. From my global health classes, I learned that “global is local” and from my women’s studies class I learned that feminism has a place in every domain of life; it’s not just a march happening outside my window or a segment on the evening news. That’s why I’m starting here, in New York City, and committing to learn how gender disparities affect women’s health.
Two things happened to me recently that make me especially excited for this summer. The first is perhaps more motivating than exciting. A few days ago, after explaining to someone very close to me that I would be working for gender equity and reproductive rights at my internship, they dismissed me, responding, “That sounds cool, but you just need to realize that that [referring to feminism] is such a small part of life and the world.” I stayed quiet, but the words ate me up inside. Feminism is not some club for liberals or a fun past time like bird watching or geo-caching. The problems that feminism tackles are so pervasive that they surround women from every side and affect every single individual living in a patriarchal society. So no, it’s not a small part of life and the world. Yet, that opinion is common and accepted where I live. My goal is not to change the world or destroy the patriarchy in one summer, but after it’s all said and done, maybe I can share with that one person what feminism means to me, why it’s so important, and why it’s not such a small matter.
Secondly, I finished taking the MCAT, the medical college admissions test, on May 20th. It was a grueling 7.5-hour test, and honestly all I could think about for the past five months.
Having been study-free for four days now, I’m rediscovering everything that had to be pushed aside before. That includes friendships, hobbies, TV shows, and even some parts of my identity. When I was introducing myself a couple of paragraphs above, Pre-Med was the first word I used to describe myself. That’s because for the past three years, it’s been my overwhelming identifier to administrators, teachers, admissions boards, colleagues, and myself. But I’m ready to set that aside and discover who else I am. While preparing for this program, our group participated in an activity where we were repeatedly asked, “Who are you?” and we responded with some qualifier or phrase. I found the task more difficult and awkward than I would have liked. Who am I? Let’s find out!
By the end of the summer, I hope I become more comfortable with that growing inner feminist and to learn what that means for me. I want to have a better idea of how feminism and medicine can work together toward the same goal. Mostly, I hope I will no longer feel scared when discussing my own beliefs and passions, no matter with whom it may be.