We’re Right Here
by Ellen Taylor, Nova Scotia
I never identified myself as a leader until I became a feminist. I had always been involved in my community in different ways as a teenager, and as a young adult, but whenever someone tried to make me write down on a resume what my “leadership activities” were, I would draw a blank. It wasn’t until my 3rd year of university, when I took a feminist theory course, with a certain feminist professor that I really began to understand my role as a young woman, a feminist, and a leader within my community. Having become politicized in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the ideological bickering that so often comes with organizing for the left (which I would discover in my move to a larger city), was absent. Despite the overbearing conservativism, traditionalism and anti-feminism that was pervasive, I had a community that was rich with mentors and allies that were committed to social change.
As my journey moves forward I continue to be a committed anti-rape activist, and strong leader in the women’s and queer community of Halifax, but there are still barriers that young women face as they begin to take leadership roles in their communities and take up causes that they believe in. As a young woman and a young feminist striving to change a culture that seems set against me, it can be a lonely road. It can seem like nothing has changed in the last 40 years. It can seem like no one agrees with me. It can seem like maybe I am wrong. I talk about this because I want to stress the importance of young women in leadership needing mentors. When I attended the Atlantic Summer Institute’s Young Women’s Leadership program, this desire for mentors was prevalent. Here we were, a group of amazing, young leaders. And yet, there was a feeling of alienation, of desperation for someone to say, “I am standing with you, and I want to know what you are going through.”
So often, ageism hinders young leaders as our opinions and beliefs are written off as idealistic, short-sited or “not there yet.” We are pushed aside because our ideals are different, without acknowledgement that it is because our generation is different. We are told we are inexperienced instead of innovative, apathetic instead of discouraged, or rash instead of ready for action. When I hear the often-stated question, “Where are all the young feminists/leaders/activists?” I want to say, “We are right here.” I want to say, “We are right here and we need you.” I want to say, “We are right here, we need you and we’re ready.”
As I continue to experience the world as a young woman working towards equity for marginalized communities, I have learned an important lesson about leadership. It is not about control, or providing the direction, it is not about saving people who we think need our help – it is about collaboration and understanding. It is about creating spaces where even the most vulnerable feel they can speak out about their needs. It is about facilitating a community that fosters everyone as leaders within their own lives, families and communities. Leadership is about speaking out against oppression even within our own departments, political spheres or communities. For me, being a woman in leadership means representing myself and staying accountable to the communities that I live in and serve.
In closing, as my experiences continue to grow and change, I hope the world will grow and change with me. But I also hope we can revitalize those who feel burned out, or discouraged by our world. I hope we can mentor, and learn and create solidarity with those who may not have the exact opinions we do, but will stand next to us as we move forward towards change and say “I am standing with you, and I want to know what you are going through.”