When I was seven, I had an imaginary pet dog. He was a large black Doberman who lived in our underground parking structure, always waiting stoically beside our car. On car rides, I would stare out the window and imagine him running effortlessly alongside. He was the family guardian only I could see.
When I was 15, I wanted to be famous. My cousins and I would walk to the nearby grocery store and stand in the magazine aisle for hours shrieking over Tiger Beat magazine. In musing over the intricacies of our future fabulous lives, I’d think “I’m definitely going to hire a bodyguard.”
When I was 18, while driving home late in the evening I stopped at a red light. I looked over and recognized the driver beside me as someone I had met before. He was a handsome, motorcycle-riding, rebel poster boy.
“Pull over,” he said.
“I really have to get home,” I apologized.
“C’mon, just for a second.”
I obliged and followed him off the main boulevard. When I got out of my car, I realized two things: He was drunk and no one knew where I was. He slurred something unintelligible, then asked me if I would drive him to get something to eat.
“I really have to go,” I said. My mind raced to find a way out that wouldn’t provoke him. I got back in my car before he could respond.
I turned the ignition as he leaned in to my open window. He slid his thick fingers into my hair and gripped a fistful of heat-pressed strands, now curling at the root from the sweat at the back of my skull. He leaned in closer, I held my breath, and he kissed me on the cheek. I don’t really remember the drive home.
When I was 20, I started dating Ali.* He was 6’6 with broad shoulders and huge biceps. When we would walk into a restaurant, he would hold my hand and I would tuck slightly behind his towering figure and fall a half step behind.
In remembering these particular moments – a select few within a vast mental index – I realize the concepts of safety and protection and, conversely, danger and exposure have been ever-present in my life. Sometimes they manifested comfortingly, other times in recklessness and naiveté. Maybe I always liked bad boys because I thought they might protect me from something worse.
Looking back, so much of my youth was spent in pursuit of both protection and freedom in a world that would guarantee neither. The Doberman was imaginary and men are hardly lifeboats. But instead of stepping up as my own captain, I felt shipwrecked amidst a sea of fear. Don’t go out at night. Don’t be too forward. Don’t drink too much. Don’t let him see where you live.
And those were the easy ones. More entangled were subconscious fears of speaking up, something I didn’t even realize until I was cast into the misunderstood realm of women in the workforce. In social settings I continued to err on the side of friendliness, even though I could feel the swelling of resentment in my stomach anytime I faked a feeling because I was afraid. It wasn’t long before the uncomfortable knot in my throat gained enough friction to catch fire.
I found my way to feminism by walking a trail scorched over many decades, adding to the ashes from my own internal blaze. Simply put, I was fucking angry.
That anger, it turned out, was an excellent source of energy. I began actively seeking more information, from the history of the women’s liberation movement to the creation of the universe. I wanted to follow the trail from the Big Bang to my high-heeled feet, trapped indoors because of the dangers lurking beneath the stars.
Feminism and its activists, authors, legislators, and leaders were a dose of pure oxygen. Others had felt what I was feeling, and more, they had drafted endless works and suggested or successfully enacted many solutions.
The new wave of feminist politics- no matter its corresponding hashtag- requires dedicated action from an unfazed minority rather than cursory social media posts from the masses. It means less time fanning the flames of ignorant celebrity opinions and internet trolls, and more time invigorating the grassroots movements in our communities.
I’m 29 this year and needless to say, I still have my moments. I still feel anger that stops me in my tracks. I’m still weighed down by the daily reminders of a woman’s preordained place in this world. I still flirt out of fear and funnel my rage in lengthy posts on Facebook. But it’s ok because it doesn’t end here. The culmination of these experiences and my documenting them, have sparked the need to act. At the very least I know the well of inspiration is continually replenished and the availability of mentors, both living and dead, is as accessible as ever.
I write all of this because I believe tremendous pain can often lead us to our true purpose. It is no wonder political activism is so emotional and dangerous. We show up carrying our rage, anxiously waiting for someone to tell us where to aim it. But rage is not a fire bomb to fling upon the opposition. It is pure energy harnessing the immeasurable potential to shift a culture, if we are humble enough to let it.
I’m mad enough. It’s time to get moving.