social activism from the most “intimate” of places

21 Feb

The title is punny, but I promise, it’s got a purpose. :)

As some of you may know, I’m a social work major and love to geek out about it. It combines an academic focus (theories, important figures and movements) with a hands-on approach to solving social problems. We look at privilege and oppression, gender bias, role theory, and many other themes. (In fact, it’s a very feminist-friendly major, so check it out if you’re searching for one!) Our code of ethics stresses six key tenets to the profession: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and (cultural) competence. Like most social work majors, I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a sucker for Sarah McLaughlin shelter-animal videos (come on, ShoutOut! community, you cry at those, too!). I used to feel at a loss for how to contribute to solving these social problems. Without much disposable income (holla at your Ramen noodles!), I realize that it’s hard for many college students to write charitable checks. I once tried donating $20 to one charity each month and found that I didn’t feel as enriched or empowered by charitable giving as I had hoped. Yes, I realized that my money was going to good causes, but I couldn’t feel much pride behind a 30-second PayPal donation. Maybe the online nature of my giving lent my attempt at philanthropy less permanency than writing a good, old-fashioned check. After all, once I closed the web browser, all traces of my good deed-doing were gone. I realized that my money, however small the amount, was making an impact but I wanted to hold my donation in my hands. I wanted to know tangibly what my contribution was.

I forget exactly how I found the Free the Girls campaign, but regardless of its source, I was immediately attracted to the idea. Spring semester was about to begin and with it, the beginning of spring cleaning fever. When I got back to school, I looked through my bras and found two sports bras and a strapless bra I hadn’t worn recently. Those three bras were taking up a ton of space in my drawer. Let’s be real. I’m not working out seven days a week and don’t need seven sports bras. So why was I holding on to so many? (Let’s be real, if you’ve seen me, you know that I probably don’t need to wear a bra at all…but bras as a tool of patriarchal oppression is a better theme for a later-in-the-week post, no? It’s only Monday. We’ll start here).

Logging onto my Facebook page, I quickly realized the power of a good mass email or Facebook message and came up with a game plan: email all the women I was close to and ask them if they had any bras to donate to the cause. I had also just read on Feministing.com that January was declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (good work, President Obama!) so it seemed like perfect timing to start a bra drive. (Also, props to my roommate for sitting on my bed while I formulated this idea whilst running around my room, tearing my drawers apart and ranting about American consumerism; snaps to her for having the patience to a) listen and b) put together a baller Lady Gaga Grooveshark station for us to take dance breaks to).

So, I threw three of my bras into a cardboard box and sent a mad punny (“if your cup is half-full, consider donating!”; “bras before bros!”) email to 24 friends.  Little could I have anticipated the reaction I would get… (click to enlarge!)

CHECK IT OUT! 72 bras. 7-2. SEVENTY-TWO. Over the course of four weeks 72 bras were donated to the cause. And these bras were donated by about ten friends. Think of the power behind harnessing a demographic — in this case, middle-class female college students — to give back?

 

I think too often we (social workers, feminists, bleeding-hearts, HUMAN BEINGS) feel inadequate when it comes to charity because we think we’re too poor/cheap/uninformed about issues to make a difference. Listen, y’all. I am not a community organizer. I am not some mega-millions philanthropist. I sent an email to 24 friends and got a response I could not have dreamed. Literally, if I can do it, so can you. You can empower former sex slaves in Mozambique by mailing them bras to be mended and sold as a means of employment, but you can also empower each other by starting and/or encouraging movements like this. You can start “small,” although I would dare say that even “small” actions cause big ripples.

Think of the creative spark behind this idea — former sex slaves need jobs + American women are often interested in de-cluttering their lives and/or drawers = mutually beneficial partnership. Cool idea, right?

So sponsor ideas that empower women. Send bras to the Free the Girls campaign (anti-trafficking focus), run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (pro-breast cancer research), or find another cause that speaks to you. Read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn if you haven’t already (note: the link is for the movement but it has information on the book as well). And research suggestions for pro-feminist activism. Get involved! The feminist movement needs thinkers, yes, but it also needs do-ers, and who better than your lovely self to get started?

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