I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for over 5 months now. I was fearful of posting it out of the high possibility that I could offend many of the people that inspire me to be a better activist. Though some of these sentiments have shifted, I realize now how important this personal statement is to my development as a feminist since my journey abroad. And so, I hope that when you read this you understand I am critiquing a system rather than individuals or white, middle class feminist women.
A professor of mine once said that the United Nations is a community of white, male non-retires thus making it difficult for others to enter the system and create change. I have come to believe the same holds true for the feminist community in NYC, except they are a group of predominantly white, middle class women.
When I left for Costa Rica last year, I simultaneously disengaged myself from the feminist community in the United States. My experiences in NYC and LA had made me resent the world of feminism. I saw many powerful feminists have their voices hidden by mainstream feminist outlets because they chose not to focus on commonly discussed topics such as reproductive justice, or sexualities. And though I witnessed many well-known leaders within the feminist community who were supportive, they didn’t want to share their power in order for the younger generations, women of color, working classes etc so that they may be recognized. I was tired of feeling let down, and sometimes ridiculed, by those whom I looked up to. Of course, there were exceptions and some strong friendships have been made.
While I believe passionately about the many causes and fights within the movement, I can’t help but get the sense that this is a community in the United States that heavily focused on recognition. Though there is an immense amount of support, it’s often followed by sentiments of, “I know better and, I can do this event, job, petition, etc better.” The companionship that I’ve found has often been about self gain - who can I mentor, how can I get my name through the door, who is the best person to network with for this project.
But I don’t think this “problem” has to do with individual people, rather it is the effect of the system in which feminism and feminists exist within. The United States, especially NYC, is a competitive place and it takes a long time to get your foot in the door. Of course, once you have gained access and recognition the thought of someone else taking your place is daunting and so people hold on tightly, almost perpetuating the system that they experienced as activist and writers in their twenties. Hello! Why is it that the same women have been running the largest and most well-known feminist organizations (i.e. Ms.) for such a long period of time without passing the torch to others?
As much as we say there is an increasing focus on intersectionality within feminist circles in the United States, we need to put more emphasis on our communities and ask ourselves how we move forward in a way that encourages mutual learning and respect between all ages, classes, genders, races, etc within feminism. How do we empower younger generations, women of color, working classes, etc to do the feminist work that they love as a career path without continuing a cycle that perpetuates competition over teamwork and growth?
After an incredible year in Costa Rica (and a few years by the beach in LA before that), my partner and I made the decision to move back to Brooklyn, NY where I will be teaching at Hunter College and my partner will be studying Traditional East Asian medicine.
The decision to move back to NYC was certainly not an easy one for us perpetual wanderers and lovers of wide open spaces. Though the thought of being closer to friends, family and the feminist community were exciting, the prospect of being back in a concrete jungle (rather than a lush green one) was a bit terrifying.
Nonetheless, here we are!
I adore this city for everything it has to offer but the process of settling was certainly trying. I assumed we would immediately find a home that we loved: in an area that was close to the best subways and friends, with a backyard where we could plant our organic garden and our dog, Joplin, could frolic in all year. I know - any NYer would say that we were crazy if we thought that could happen but we did find many of those spaces. The problem was getting accepted as renters.
See, for those of you who don’t know, NYC is so jam packed with people that the competition for housing is steep. If you are lucky to find a place before someone else grabs it, you then have to prove that you make 3x the rent, have proof of employment, a credit score of 700 (considered “good”) or have a co-signer who looks even better than that. As students (coming from an international location) we had no recent tax returns or employment. And though my partner and I started our own company, get paid well- but by contract - we didn’t have proof of a stable income. If you couple that with the intense amount of loans I have had to defer because, well, we are living in a recession (among other societal issues) - we don’t look that good on paper though we are probably better off than most (thanks to our hard work, pinching pennies, and the kindness of our parents).
In Costa Rica, we got our apartment off of craigslist and the landlord accepted us largely because we were nice, had friends in common (we only learned this after we spoke) and were both activists. There were no questions about our dog, income, or our personal lives, etc. So, you can imagine how much of a shock it was to be reminded of the extent to which the NYC housing hunt runs on image and money. If you have a good look, and lots of money, you are in. This city that is overly accepting of individuals also has a side that discriminates against those who are younger and haven’t had the opportunity to build up their “good on paper” image, live in a recession, and/or have decided not to join the masses in a “deskjobforlife” career by adopting an untraditional lifestyle (i.e. Travelers, artists, etc). Unfortunately, we fit all of those categories.
After being told that we couldn’t live in a few apartments because we didn’t have “the right look on paper” or because we had a service dog (which, by the way, is illegal to say) we have finally settled into a little and adorable apartment in South Park Slope.
I am completely in love with our new home (see picture below), but I don’t want to forget about the process that we had to go through to get here. I know that we are not the only ones who faced such difficulties in finding a home and it’s important to me that something shifts with NYC real estate laws. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a single woman of color, a undocumented citizen, a retired veteran, and/or persons with disabilities looking for good housing in this city.
For more information on Fair Housing, please visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
People in my life often say they wish they could live the way that my partner and I do: On the beach in Malibu or our loft in NYC, running a company (or a few) from the house, having a cute dog and traveling the moment that we want to.
Of course it sounds a lot easier then it really is. You must create the job that allows you to travel and you need support and an emotional (and physical, if you are lucky) place to land in case everything falls through.
But, a lot of our ability to live this gypyset lifestyle is due to the fact that we are open people. A year after our graduation from college, we wrestled with our fear of failing and instead of living a miserable life in an office, we got into a car and drove. We lived there for a few months without much more then ramen noodles, wine and a bag of clothes until we figured out what we wanted to do. In our case, we lived in the car until we realized that we didn’t want to live in the car anymore.
IT wasn’t easy. I didn’t have healthcare (still don’t) and later got sick, together lost about 60 pounds, we were taken for homeless, had no jobs to speak of and had about $700 combined. Despite it all, we found the courage to start something completely unconventional and found people along the way who were supportive of us.
This is where the point is. We found people who let us into their homes, let us take showers in their motel rooms, played with our puppydog, gave us warm sheets and clothes, and entertained us with funny stories, great beer and sometimes even a comfortable place to sleep. People. We interacted with the world around us and found life and a way of living that is forgotten in this country.
Our society is so terrified of living outside of the invisible boundaries and welcoming in those who don’t fit the mold. Even the most progressive people in my life live in fear. They remained glued to the corporate structure, wondering how to live a life where they can pick up and move as they please.
My partner and I put our love first. Our love for one another absolutely, but we also honor and nurture the love that we have for each other’s ideas and dreams no matter how outrageous they may be. More then that, we welcome all those who are in search of a home and in search of adventure, into our lives (and spare rooms).
Perhaps if we stop thinking of the “basic necessities” being making money, paying rent, and eating overpriced organic food, and think of them as helping others, we will suddenly be a world that lives again.