I watch this movie about Riot Grrrl, and over and over I hear that one of the main purposes of Riot Grrrl was to let women know that their voices are valid—that women’s voices should be heard.
Part of me feels empowered. Why do I feel marginalized as a woman of color so much of the time? It’s W. E. B. Du Bois’ double-consciousness, lit afire and irreconcilably fractured under the force of all that heat. To feel compelled to be so many people hurts sometimes, especially because I acknowledge that some of those disparate entities that make up me are so very privileged. “People should have to hear what I have to say,” I think, “because I matter, too!”
I also feel disheartened.
I thought it would be easy to study marginalized experiences of rape. “Easy” is not the right word, because I always knew it would be difficult. I just thought it would be difficult in other ways.
I had wanted my undergraduate thesis to be about how academia (vis-à-vis popular academic journals) portrays rape. I wanted to ask, “Who is seen as the victim? Who is seen as the rapist? Under what circumstances is a rape seen as ‘founded’? Who is left out?”
That’s not what it’s about now.
Anyone familiar with academia knows that one is often called upon to explain the “significance” of one’s research. Anyone familiar with being marginalized knows that one’s own experiences and judgments are often questioned by others who hold values closer to those of the hegemony.
Whenever I meet someone new or experience things I have not experienced before, I try to take everything at face value. For example, I believe professors when they say that students must do all the reading to pass the class. I believe them until their actions do something that proves that they are somehow untrustworthy in what they say.
I believed the school officials who told me that I must produce a thesis that somehow contributes to ongoing discussions in my desired field.
I thought that the significance of studying how rape is represented in widely read academic journals would be self-evident. This is not to say that I thought I would never have to justify my academic interests, but rather that I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would need to explain why it is important to study the worldwide phenomena of violence targeted at historically disempowered classes of people.
For me, the answer is: Because all people matter, and some people hurt. We are morally obligated to help each other. We are ethically obligated to hear other people’s stories and take action to guard against others’ hurt.
I do not have the words right now to explain what happened that semester of fall 2011. Nor do I have the words to explain the way what happened left me feeling—the way I still feel when I think about it all. And, I think my inability to articulate is really stupid, because at the time it was so consuming. To be completely cliché, to think about it now feels like picking at a scab: it hurts and it seems like I should leave it alone, but mostly, I feel like it’s made me ugly.
I think that it made me see.
I had some amount of years, probably the first 10 of my life, that were extremely generous. I may have seemed reserved at times, but mostly I think I was just learning about everything. Looking back, so many things seemed exciting.
Somewhere I began to keep a secret place inside of me. It’s that secret place that blooms when I read Jamaica Kincaid. It’s in that place where I refuse to pray to the Father, because that is not my God.
That is the place where my true interests flourish—where my real thesis (not the current thing I’m working on) is striving to live.
In the end, I feel as if I am trying to grasp the essence of Riot Grrrl with a desperate ineptitude.
None of the fight has left me, no matter what my experiences have been. I have somehow become more unruly, more myself, maybe because I feel haunted by my life now and all of the lives I almost lived.
I hope that one day I won’t feel the need to squirrel away my true feelings. I hope that when that day comes who I am inside will not be bleached dead, wrapped in pearls, and suffocated by too many sweater sets.
One can only hope.