Speaking Up to End Rape Culture

Jess Myers, Women's Center DirectorJess Myers is director of the UMBC Women’s Center.

The idea of “breaking ground” is the perfect metaphor for my recent first radio appearance experience. When radio producer and UMBC alum Stefanie Mavronis first asked me to speak on the Marc Steiner Show about my perspective on the Steubenville sexual assault case (you can read more about it here and here, trigger warning), I immediately thought about all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it. I’m a better writer than a public speaker. I am more comfortable speaking to small audiences versus large. How could I possibly be “expert enough” to speak on a radio show? But, then I put a pause on all of those negative thoughts and considered how important it can be to try new things, even if they seem scary.

After we finished recording, I hung up the phone and thought, “Well, I am never doing that again!” I immediately began to judge what I said, how I said it, and all the things I could have said instead.

Over the course of the week, though, I have allowed myself to once again push out those negative thoughts. As a young professional, I am reminding myself that everyone has to start somewhere and that if we constantly tell ourselves reasons not to do something, in fear of our imperfections, we will never give ourselves the opportunity expand our boundaries or be agents of change. Without giving myself permission to do something new, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have follow-up conversations with colleagues, students and family members about the desperate need to end rape culture, the messages women are socialized to believe about themselves, or the important work of the Women’s Center’s men’s engagement program.

In the feminist community, I have so many role models who use the media to advocate for women. They are fierce women who will be remembered as agents of social transformation. I know they would want me to use their influence to fuel, not inhibit, my own advocacy work. Gloria Steinem has a memory of the first time Ms. was published. Shelby Knox has a story of her first public speaking engagement. Jessica Valenti can recall the first time she appeared on a national news broadcast. If they hadn’t silenced the negative voices inside their heads that told them they weren’t good enough, where would the feminist movement be today? How many strides behind would we still be?

When an architect looks at a plot of dirt, she doesn’t think it’s not enough. She digs in and breaks ground and with time, effort and love that plot of dirt can become anything, a state-of-the-art building or a simple house a family will call a home. Who is it that you want to become? What are the stories you want to tell? And, most importantly, what are the messages that you need to cultivate in yourself that will allow you to break ground?

Contact the author, Jess Myers, at jessm@umbc.edu. Hear her segment from the Marc Steiner Show on the program’s website.

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