This blog post was written by Communications Intern Sara Heegaard
On January 24, our mentees talked activism, empowerment, and community building at the Mentee Mid-Year Workshop. Bringing these messages to life was an outstanding panel of groundbreaking female thinkers and writers: Zann Ballsun-Simms (Sadie Nash), Emily Brandt (VIDA Lit), Mercy Carpenter (WMRC), Katy Ma (SPARK), Lynn Melnick (VIDA Lit), Amanda Perales (MOUSE), Dayna Tortorici (n+1), and Doreen St. Felix (HBO).
After the workshop, were lucky enough to continue our conversation with Doreen, whose writing is a shining example of the progress words can spark with the right balance of informed activism and inspired charge. Having felt personally the power of mentoring in her own journey as a writer, she’s recently joined Girls Write Now as a mentor herself. Doreen shared with us her thoughts on feminist awakening, hashtag activism, and knowing your worth as a young woman in today’s job market.
During the workshops, we discussed the idea of feminist awakening – in literature, popular culture, and our personal lives. What poem, quote, or song lyric embodies the idea of an empowered awakening to you?
- Doreen St. Felix: “I am the history of battery assault and limitless armies against whatever I want to do with my mind and my body and my soul” –June Jordan. June Jordan was a poet, essayist and an architect. It’s nearly literary, I think, this meeting of her three occupations. Her body of work, whether she was devising futurist urban space plans with Bucky Fuller or building poems or essays from the words she kept close, was always heavy with the history of black woman experience but not nailed down by those burdens. This quote is important to me because my own awakening occurs in that hard yet freeing place: the spot where I know what violence I experience but I also know how strong I am, my woman ancestors, were in wringing from pain the sweetness of internal empowerment.
Hashtag activism – for example, the #YesAllMen campaign – has become a growing tool to unify different people under a common cause. If you could popularize the next big hashtag movement, what hashtag — be it an already existing one or one of your own choosing — would you select and why?
- Doreen St. Felix: Mikki Kendall’s #
SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is arguably the most successful black feminist activist hashtag, but it’s painfully obvious that the message hasn’t truly been absorbed by mainstream feminism. We can’t stand for that. When the word “women” is used in political contexts, it’s automatically assumed we’re discussing white women. At the basic level of language, I think it’s critical to undo automatized assumptions about who “fits” into traditional categories of women. We ought to center marginalized people in the category of woman, and loosen the boundaries around “woman” as a political term.
What advice – career-related, academic, or personal – would you give to teen girls about “holding their own” in today’s world?
- Doreen St. Felix: Be your own advocate. As a woman who’s just starting it in her career, I’ve found that no one is going to look out for my interests better than I can. Know your worth, and don’t be afraid to demand the pay you deserve for putting out that worth. Youth, especially young women, are socialized to second-guess the value of the product they put out in all industries. We are worth a lot more than we offer.
Doreen St. Felix, a 22-year-old writer from Canarsie, Brooklyn, is in between. She graduated from Brown University in June of 2014, with a degree in English Nonfiction Writing. Since then, she’s been working to find the place where writing, activism, and art can prosper without compromise. This past fall, she worked as a language consultant and writer for filmmaker Steve McQueen’s upcoming HBO pilot Codes of Conduct. She also maintained a blog for Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Tour, writing posts on reproductive justice history in the cities the tour visited. She’s been published in The Guardian, the National Anthology of Best Undergraduate Poetry, The College Hill Independent, and is part of a roundtable on police brutality at n+1. Currently, she’s working on a play. She also—and it’s a problem—can’t stop tweeting @dstfelix.