Self Care: An Activists Survival Guide

AlexiaAlexia Petasis is an INDS intern on the Women’s Center student staff team. Alexia studies social justice and dance. In the following blog post, she runs through a list of crucial self-care survival strategies for activists. 

Every week, the Women’s Center asks a “question of the week” available for anyone to respond to. One week our question was, “what do you do for self-care?” This question was one I have heard many times, but this time it led me to ponder all the ways I have, or have not, practiced self-care as well as what tips I can offer everyone else. I’ve seen many people around campus this semester look drained, fatigued and overwhelmed by our campus climate. For some, this exhaustion was due to the various articles and subsequent student rallies that came about after allegations that UMBC mishandled sexual assault claims.

I’ve gathered some self care tips from my own experiences, the advice my friends find helpful, and others I’ve found online while on a quest to live my best social justice activist life, while not drowning carelessly into the pit of despair that social justice work sometimes feels like. As we head into Thanksgiving, let’s use the next few days off to reflect on ways we can practice self-care….

Take the Time to be Mad:

Over the past semester, many of our campus community members have experienced feelings of  anger. Anger at our institution and anger at the fact that this issue was more than an isolated incident. Being mad allows us to feel what we rightfully should feel and allows us to push ourselves to see what we can do about it. If we weren’t mad or bothered about issues like these, then there would be no driving force to pursue change. On that note, I’ve noticed it is equally important to be aware of how much “bad news” you consume.

During the semester, while UMBC was exploding with its own bad news about the alleged mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault, the news was overwhelmingly reminiscent of how the roots of injustice are so deeply ingrained in our society. Survivors of sexual assault nationwide have had to revisit their past trauma with the news pertaining to Supreme Court Judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. An article published on CNN states, “the day Ford testified in front of senators and the whole country, the sex assault hotline saw a 201% increase in calls compared with a typical day”. It was almost like our school and the federal government were in a parallel universe and the influx of bad news was overwhelming.

So, be mad, but also be careful to balance out time to also think about the good things. As hard as it is, try not to allow yourself to stay so up-to-date with everything that you bombard your mind with all the bad in the world. This can cause opposite results and paralyze your abilities as an activist since it feels as though nothing is getting better. This leads me to my next point.

Surround Yourself with Other Activists:

This one is IMPORTANT! I didn’t realize just how draining it was to be around those who truly don’t give a sh*t about the injustices many face in our world. Therefore, I would first say, have conversations and meet individuals whose views align with yours and who want to help the world become a better place too. At the Women’s Center, I have seen so many bonds created in the lounge area of the Women’s Center and have been part of many conversations empowering us to speak our truths. We Believe You, a student organization on campus, holds weekly discussion group and general body meetings for survivors of sexuals assualt and allies. In the wake of campus conversations around sexual violence, it can sometimes feel good to be with people who are doing the work and also feel similar frustrations.

But, along with meeting activists in person, there are many podcasts out there that can make us feel hopeful of all the other activists we have doing amazing work and raising our consciousness about issues that are all around us.

One of my favorites is called “Transforming Together” by two staff members at HopeWorks, a domestic violence shelter in Howard County. Brittany Eltringham and Heidi Griswold shed light on issues happening in our country with an intersectional feminist perspective. They describe their podcasts as, “a blend of pop culture and social justice, the show is hosted by two queer folks who are committed to healing, laughing, and loving their way to a world free from exploitation, oppression, and violence.” Another resource called Know Your IX mentions various tips for self care on their website as well.

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Express Gratitude:

Express gratitude when it’s easy, but more importantly, make the conscious decision and effort to express gratitude when the world feels as if it’s a dumpster fire. Even if it is as simple as I woke up on time today, I made an extra good cup of coffee this morning, or I had a good conversation with someone. Try to start each day or end each night writing five things that you are grateful for that day. Every little bit of positivity you offer to yourself trains your mind to escape this bubble of pessimism towards the world (which frankly I do often too, but I am working on it).

Another cool way to bring in more optimism among all the dreariness that comes with social justice activism is to sign up for The Good Trade email notifications. The Good Trade describes their daily newsletter as, “Everyday Inspiration For The Informed Woman: A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.” Their mission statement at the bottom of the newsletter states that the inspiration of the day leaves you “informed + inspired about the good things that rise above the clutter”. To say the least, waking up and reading the good work that others are doing around the world can help to ground us and recenter our views of the world.

Embody Self Preservation:

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Finally, the infamous quote by Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Viewing self-care as an inherent part of any activism effort and a duty you owe yourself is crucial to taking good care of yourself while you are busy trying to take care of everyone else. As we head into finals and holidays and reasons for activism always continue to exist what will you do to practice self-care? Feel free to share your ideas or comments with us on the Women’s Center social media pages!

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A Brief Reflection on Finding My Voice

Mariana De Matos Medeiros

A blog reflection by Women’s Center intern Mariana de Matos Medeiros 

I’ve been working on a draft for this blog post for over 6 weeks. It’s been intimidating and scary to be vulnerable in such a public space.

I was hoping to describe how I self-silence and how I struggle to find words that match my thoughts and feelings. I often try to polish them, make them perfect and pristine. Drafting and editing about a million times and still feeling like what I’ve written is not quite right. Sometimes I feel that folks are all too willing to accept that femme women often struggle with expressing their unique voices.

Further, my ideas and how I express them through writing—in other words my voice—have often been devalued. Whether through my experience with academic writing or the constant rhetoric that lived experience is less valuable than ‘objective’ facts found through scientific research. Often, lived experience is closely associated with emotion and thus femininity. It feels invalidating and that my thoughts are only valuable if I can back them up with an outside source. Continue reading

“Twice as Good” On Being a Woman of Color and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

Meagé Profile Pic

Meagé Clements

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements 

Growing up, my mother would always remind my sister and I that we had to work twice as hard as everyone else because not only were we women, but we were Black women. Living in a society that has always had low expectations of us, a society where we are confined to various stereotypes and generalizations, it has always been important for us to excel above and beyond the expectations of others. We applied her advice, made the honor roll and the dean’s list numerous times, pursued membership in honors programs and honor societies, yet we continued to question if any of these things would even matter in the long run. Would we still be subjected to the glass ceiling and other barriers that would prevent us from reaching the top because of our gender and race?

As I approach my final weeks of being an undergraduate and I’m frantically trying to plan every detail of my adult life after grad school, I find myself returning to this question more and more. At a recent Women of Color Coalition meeting, I learned that this constant questioning and self-doubt is called “Imposter Syndrome.”

Despite earning the grades and being just as qualified, if not more qualified than many of my peers, I doubted myself and whether I truly belonged and I continued to try and find ways to prove that to myself and others. During the meeting, I found that I was not alone in this sentiment, and that this was something that nearly everyone experienced; however, this persistent self-doubt impacts women of color differently for a number of reasons.  Continue reading

Halloween Costumes: Looking into the Haunted Mirror of Our Past

A collaborative authorship post from Bria Hamlet and Jess Myers

Jess:
You guessed it! It’s that time of the year when the Women’s Center staff crushes your Halloween costume dreams and makes you feel guilty about your costume decisions. Sexist! Racist! Cultural appropriation! We know, we’re just no fun… but someone’s gotta do it.

A Halloween costume that represented Jess' dreams of becoming the first female baseball player in Major League Baseball.

A Halloween costume that represented Jess’ dreams of becoming the first female baseball player in Major League Baseball.

But in all seriousness, this is an important conversation…. one that I wish I would have had with thoughtful intersectional feminists back in my growing up days. I didn’t know what cultural appropriation was in 3rd grade… or if I’m being honest, in college. Halloween costumes I regret include dressing as a Harem Girl and a nagging wife (ugh, just writing those words breaks my women’s center director heart) among others. I feel guilty about these choices and up until now, I’ve done my best to keep these secrets to myself but somewhere along the way these memories have been shared with Women’s Center staff members and together we’ve walked down memory lane of costumes of Halloween past. We’ve used these conversations as an opportunity for us to hold up the mirror for ourselves and others. We are not exempt from histories of making harmful choices in our Halloween gear. By allowing ourselves to look into the mirror of racism, sexism, and cultural appropriation, we hope to diffuse the guilt and defensive that often comes from having these conversations related to Halloween costumes of choice so we can all dig a bit deeper into that critical thought and dialogue.

Plus… what better way to share some of our childhood photos from Halloweens of the 1980s and 90s!

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Bria:
I was an angel, a princess, and a pink Power Ranger in pursuit of candy. Queen Amidala and Mulan searched for the most haunting home decor while Cleopatra and Tinkerbell prepared for horror movie marathons with friends. It all started out so harmless.

Yoo-Jin takes on the "tweeter" side of being a pirate!

Yoo-Jin takes on the “tweeter” side of being a pirate!

I have never taken the time to reflect on how the intent of celebrating Halloween changes from childhood to adulthood. Historically, All Hallows’ Eve has been about terrifying confrontations with the dead, but these days I have been aghast at the overpriced sexism on Party City’s walls. For just $49.99, you can please the patriarchy and unleash your inner sexist all in one night!

Halloween has become a night for adults to indulge in repressed fantasies through costume. I am cringing as I recall the year I decided to costume as Playboy Bunny (before I could even legally be one). I now believe that if this industry wasn’t so hellbent on supplying women with only “sexy” options for Halloween, then women everywhere could proudly say they wanted to dress like that, not that they were left optionless. It’s bad enough that women are oversexualized everyday, and this ‘tradition’ reinforces the idea that any effort put into appearing sexy is to please men. And thus, we welcome you to the Sexy Halloween Costume Industry!

Megan (on the left) with her Wonder Woman sister.

Megan (on the left) with her Wonder Woman sister.

I chose my own costumes and wore them happily. My only regret is the lack of thought I put into the message I sent to the rest of the world. While I hoped my sexy schoolgirl costume screamed “I am poking fun at my all-girl secondary education and embracing my sexuality all at one time!,” I know that was not the case. Truly feminist costumes should leave you feeling respected, empowered, and happy. Although I am still struggling to settle on a costume idea, I am pleased to have the awesome resources below for some feminist costuming inspiration! Check them out!

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What is cultural appropriation?

On Appropriation vs Appreciation
Costume Fails from @Chescaleigh
What Not to Wear on Halloween… a Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast

Amelia's love for cats started early on....

Amelia’s love for cats started early on….

Daniel in his blue ant costume.

Daniel  as Flick, the blue ant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Creative!

Feminist Halloween Costumes – a Post from Feministing with so many other cool links
Women in History Halloween Costume Ideas
5 Feminist Halloween Costumes… a video from Stuff Mom Never Told You

Get your Activism On!

Halloween Liberation Kit
We’re a culture, not a costume
How to tell your friend they’re Halloween costume is racist

Oh hey RAs! A Halloween Bulletin Board at your finger tips!