In April of 2006, I went to visit Wellesley for the first time for Spring Open Campus. That year, the huge prospective student gathering happened to occur just a couple days after one of the biggest school holidays: Marathon Monday. I remember the joyous glow of the current students as they attempted to explain to me (a skeptic, unimpressed, teenage snot) why watching a marathon was such a big deal.
“It’s the halfway point of the race,” they told me. “We call it ‘The Wellesley Scream Tunnel’ and cheer on the runners just as they begin to hit the 13-mile wall.” As someone who had dabbled in long distance running, I knew a thing or two about hitting walls but I still didn’t understand how this race warranted a day off from class and the hearts and enthusiasm of over 2,000 18-22 year old women.
Enter Marathon Monday 2007: It was cold and raining and I was told that the crowds were thinner than usual. I grabbed a couple of signs from the Munger common room around 8:30am, sleepily pulled on a rain poncho and went and stood against the flimsy metal railings and cheered for the elite runners. As the day marched on and the sun came out, the crowd of runners and spectators got thicker. High fives, kisses, and hugs were given. Runners were crying. Motivational words were offered. And as I sat there taking it all in alongside some girls who would end up becoming my best friends, I began to understand the essence of Marathon Monday.
This event allows humanity to practice mutual recognition. Spectators and runners made eye contact and physical contact and for just a moment each of them shared a connection all wrapped up in vulnerability and exhaustion and strength and celebration and hope. That experience convinced me that my politics and religion and gender are not the basis for my humanity; my body and heart and smile and ability to interact with, learn from, and connect to others is what makes me human. Whether they were running for cancer or running for fun, running for the first time, or for the tenth, they were in this together. If you listened closely you could hear the humming rhythm of thousands of feet hitting the pavement, pushing forward in unison towards a common goal. It was beautiful.
Back on campus we danced and sang and ate and laughed and laughed and laughed, taking the time to just sit with each other and soak in this odd little tradition of ours and to happily share this experience with each other. I returned to celebrate Marathon Monday for four more years (all throughout college and once as an alum), and every time it was better than the last. I knew more and more people actually in the race and fewer people on the sidelines. The crowds were kinder, sillier, louder. The runners were pushing themselves even harder, they were stronger, their missions were more powerful.
Some of the best memories of the last few years have taken place on Marathon Monday and it pains me to state that the meaning of this day has now been compromised. Random acts of violence have a way of reminding us how unsafe the world actually is. They make us wonder how in the world we’ve managed to avoid such tragedy for so long and because of this, they make sure that we never take a safe and supportive gathering of strangers for granted again. To see pictures and videos of blood painting the sidewalks that I once stood upon so safely, confidently, triumphantly has been the most sickening experience of my life.
I hope to begin tomorrow with a renewed vigor for addressing the causes of such senseless violence and with the intent of doing all that I can to gradually restore our collective faith in all that is good. We cannot only stand together in the aftermath of Aurora and Newtown and Marathon Monday. At some point we will have to also stand together to diagnose the terminal illness that is permeating throughout our society and throughout our world that convinces certain individuals that the only way to be heard is to speak the language of bloodshed. Let’s prove them wrong and start listening to the signs and the pain and the suffering today. Our collective healing process starts with tiny steps that each of us takes individually and then slowly, eventually if you listen closely you will be able to hear the progress of millions of feet, hitting the pavement, pushing forward in unison towards a common goal.
We all remember #MarathonMonday and the #WellesleyScreamTunnel so fondly and now an act of hatred has ruined what should have been a joyous day. All of our Wellesley siblings in Boston are in our thoughts and prayers. Stay safe.
Hello WU Readers:
We hope you are enjoying this lazy Sunday. Recently I was on the phone with my good friend Hannah ‘08 and we were talking about books we were reading and wanted to read. Wellesley alums are known as a well read cohort and so I started thinking, we should have a running list of books reviews and recommendations submitted by you all the alums! I know a few alums who have also taken up re-reading books they read while in college. We would love those additions as well. Submissions can be written reviews, video or audio recordings of reading your favorite excerpt etc., be creative! Bad reviews are welcome as well!
Submit your review or recommendation to us at email@example.com! We look forward to getting your submissions!
WU/ Shelly ‘08
I stopped being silent. March 2011.
Casually reading through McSweenies, which I did in my job regularly, I came across this hilarious piece about street harassment and self defense, and naturally this led me to pérouse www.ihollaback.org. This is a website which maps reports of street harassment around the world, linking branches of Hollabacks through a network of blogs. I immediately responded very emotionally to these postings about being groped, followed, scared to tears, rubbed against, and victimized by so many instances of harassment as these contributor (mainly women) try to live in this world. I submitted my own story of something which happened in Mumbai three years prior: a man followed me through a crowded train station, and when I thought I was safely inside the rickshaw pulling way from the station, to my surprise, he chased the rickshaw until he had the chance to reach into the backseat to touch my thigh. Not nearly the worst thing that has happened to me in India or any other country, but for some reason it had stuck with me. And from my talk with my mom, these things do tend to stick.
I was energized by the idea that I could voice stories most of my close connections didn’t know about me, and could map these stories globally. This was a meaningful approach to the pervasive yet reticent problem of harassment, and after a few weeks of constantly talking about it, I thought that I might want to be player in that global approach.
From April 2011 to June, I was the only one representing Istanbul and I was totally freaked out. After a slew of emails, meetings with friends of friends of friends, and posting on expat websites, there were six of us and I am proud to say that half were Turkish. We launched the only bilingual Hollaback website at the end of August 2011, and by mid-September we were on the cover of the major Turkish newspaper Radikal and had articles about us in 4 other major newspapers and magazines. The media and many Turkish women reached out to us, excited about this new approach to social movements that was youth-driven and armed with technology.
Shortly after our website launch, we decided that being a blog wasn’t enough; we wanted to bring localized solutions to Istanbul and we called this movement Canimiz Sokakta (roughly meaning ‘we’re alive on the street’). Working in a city exceeding 16 million people, we decided to target educational institutions with our message of inclusion and against gender-based violence. In Turkey, there is no compulsory sex or health education, so there is definitely no education approaching issues of harassment. Without literacy in these issues, we’ve had to center our events on founding the vocabulary to talk about harassment including defining it and making it culturally sensitive. Moreover, we’ve run community-wide events to create a civil society that does not revictimize victims of harassment, but shoulders the blame and punishment on perpetrators. A powerful example is our story sharing events, where those who have experienced street harassment come together and share their stories, support each other, and receive guidance by a psychologist and lawyer. In more multilateral efforts, we’ve partnered with media and gender centers, other NGOs, consulates, and local professionals to Miss Representation screenings, art nights, leadership and self-defense trainings, and legal, educational, and media research. We’ve also just started working with the Turkish equivalent of Curves which has over 130,000 lady gym-goers around Turkey. I’m particularly excited about this one.
Canimiz Sokakta has been in over thirty publications as of today in 5 different languages, and we’ve been on TV, the radio, newspapers, magazines, and online media locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally. And in the midst of this flurry of activity, I left this September to attend graduate school at the London School of Economics. One thing not previously mentioned is that through all of this I experienced constant and sometimes paralyzing self-doubt. I am not Turkish, of Turkish background, speak Turkish and have any real authority to start something like this that should have become this size. As a guest living in Turkey, I decided that I would no longer let harassment terrorize me or my community. That decision has invariably changed my life, but I constantly felt this anxiety from the to find a someone to replace me—someone with investment and comprehension of Turkey in a way I would never have. Before I left Istanbul, I established a group of founding NGO members and three leading directors made of me and two young Turkish professional women. More detached from the day-to-day activities, I am now looking at how we can sustain our movement and become embedded in the fabric of Turkish civil society.
Essentially, I’m still in the middle of this story. There’s no end in sight, and that’s invigorating. I took so many chances, sacrificed my health and sanity, and risked my personal relationships to achieve an ideal that is by any account unachievable, namely a world without harassment. But for first time in my life, I saw change and hope in the people that I met with. I was able to work with people to build something that is, today, standing sturdier and bolder than ever. And I can say that for the first time since Wellesley, I’ve felt a part of a community of women who are the sources of change in the world, and who are just as active and inspiring as anyone in my Wellesley classes and in my dorm hall. For me, my post-Wellesley experience has revealed that centering my life around those Wellesley-esque communities is when I feel most at home.
You can check out our 3 minute video from our latest campaign: http://youtu.be/O3bzc7NHbfY
Have a story of harassment to share? It doesn’t matter where in the world it happened; you can stand against harassment by submitting your story here: http://www.ihollaback.org/share/
Kacie is a 2009 Wellesley graduate, who lived in Morocco and Turkey before moving to London to attend the London School of Economics for a master’s degree in the fall of 2012. After founding the organization Canimiz Sokakta, she directed it for a year and a half and has stepped back to concentrate her efforts on its long-term strategies.
Like many of my peers, I began articling at the end of the summer of 2012 at a law firm off Bay Street. I had heard the horror stories of the 10 month articling period from many as I neared the end of law school— the dwindling social life, the late night assignments, the one heinous lawyer who would drop a research assignment on your desk at 7pm due the next morning. What was absent from those conversations was a discussion of what it would mean to be a woman and a person of color at a largely white male practice- and an articling student no less.
I receive assignments from lawyers who are ostensibly committed to my advancement; who work alongside women and yet, would refer to opposing counsel as “broads” and, on some occasion “bitches.” In my first two weeks at the office, I would hear words like “cunt” and “queer” thrown around the lunchroom without any kind of reaction. On one occasion, very early on in the year, I went to speak to a lawyer about a judge who had been particularly harsh with respect to my motion materials. In an attempt to be helpful, I assume, he referred to her as a “little ho” and told me not to worry about it. My own position as a woman was irrelevant, it seemed. There was an entire lunch spent debating which actress at an awards show the night before was the most fuckable. Conversations regularly turned on the dinners being made by the wives of lawyers when they got home. The stories go on. I have shared them with many a fellow articling student, and all are equally shocked.
Some relevant factors: I am a woman of color. I identify as a feminist. I went to an undergraduate institution with leftist politics and an emphasis on women’s rights, and took classes on advanced feminist theory and transnational feminism all the way through my master’s and even in law school.
Perhaps for that reason, what has been more troubling to me than the overt discrimination in my work environment has been my growing complicity with the kinds of attitudes and comments that circulate on a day-to-day basis.
Where once I would think nothing of telling people know where they could go with their bigoted views, I have found myself, on virtually every occasion, remaining silent. Outside of the office, I have turned these stories into conversation pieces, even party tricks. But in my white-washed, predominantly-male work environment, the need to conform has assumed paramount importance. I realize that these past few months have also been about a kind of erasure: my willful dissociation from my race and gender-those parts of me that might be perceived as threats- in order to make myself palatable.
A few weeks back, a staff member was talking about his upcoming trip to India. One of the lawyers joked that he would step off the luxury train in which he was traversing the country to be greeted by a “village man who would offer him 100 goats to marry his daughter”. Everyone laughed. The punchline was clear: India was backwards and uncivilized. These comments bear directly on my own heritage, a heritage I grew up with, and love, and which continues to shape my identity. And yet, in that moment, I said nothing.
On one occasion, I did confront a lawyer who made a particularly sexist remark about my future career options. I later approached him to smooth things over- the absurdity of my concern for his well-being given his apparent disregard for mine is not lost on me. He was fine, it seemed. “We’re bros”, he said. I felt oddly relieved. Thinking on it later, I realized his comment- humorous without the context I’ve sketched out- is an apt reflection of my experience and the tensions underlying it. “You’re one of us”, it says, “but on our terms”. “You are not different.”
I wonder sometimes, about the greater impact of this environment on me and, more importantly, my silence within it. I wonder if, by the end of these 10 months, I will have erased so much of my “difference” that I will be unrecognizable.