Reflections On #NYFLC2016 & "Dear Me" Gallery
For the past two weeks, I’ve been hugging a huge stack of letters.
Two weeks ago, I carefully unpacked the letters from my bursting suitcase, along with my pink ‘Exhibitor’ badge and handfuls of stickers/buttons/feminist swag.
I loved the buttons, I loved the workshops and twitter conversations, but in this post I’m going to mainly focus on what GirlSense & NonSense achieved and learned from the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.
I’ve spent the last two weeks hugging letters because GirlSense & NonSense did a little activity at our booth during the conference. We called it “Dear Me” and asked folks to write a letter to their younger selves. It was storytelling, empowerment, art, and creativity all wrapped into one, and helped us get to know people at the conference in a short amount of time.
It did that and so much more.
Now, I’m going to be completely honest and say that we felt a little out of place at first. Mainly because we are not a ‘feminist activist organization’ in the traditional sense. We’re ‘feminist’ because we provide a platform for female creators to tell their stories, and we’re ‘activists’ because we value female voices and perspectives and give others the opportunity to do the same . So yes, we’re a little different.
But attending this conference helped me understand that the feminist movement needs stories, and that is why our organization belonged at the conference and in this sphere.
Let me explain: during the conference there was tension between second wave and third wave feminists, or mainly with younger people who demanded the conference be more inclusive. This tension was good and resulted in really positive conversations, but also reflected a very real struggle happening within the larger movement to fully wrap itself around the unique identities and experiences of many different people.
A potential solution? Storytelling.
Storytelling helps us heal.
Saying it out loud, talking and screaming about our experiences, helps us acknowledge and then slowly let it go. And there is a lot of healing to be done within the feminist movement.
Storytelling creates empathy.
It is the connection we need to an individual who comes from a different place, is a different gender, or who has a different skin color. Story is a bridge from one person to another and real understanding is needed before substantial political and cultural shifts are possible for feminists.
We have stacks of letters from young people at the conference that tell stories of abuse, oppression, confusion, and so much pain. It is the pain that has led them to feminism and the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, and it is their stories and experiences that inform their call for gender neutral bathrooms and ‘demanded’ rather than ‘preferred’ pronouns.
And in those same letters are also stories of immense courage and bravery, and an overwhelming sense of hope that feminism provided in their darkest days.
We need to hear these stories and we need a feminist movement that fully embraces the unique voices and experiences of all people.
I think it starts by telling your story.
For those that wrote a letter and shared part of their story with GirlSense & NonSense, know that we heard you.
We heard you.
And to the organizers of the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference: thank you for helping us understand why that is so important.