Dressember Day Four: Sophia Latorre-Zengierski (Princeton, NJ)
I have been thinking a lot about courage—what it is, what it means.
As a Ravenclaw, for those of you up on your Hogwarts History, I have sometimes struggled with the notion that it is necessary at times to speak up, hoping instead that ideas would simply stand up for themselves. But the truth is ideas go nowhere without someone advocating for them, fighting for them, believing in them—in short, sometimes it necessary to be a Gryffindor.
After the staggering results of EU referendum in Britain and the US election at home, I attended a screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was preceded by a conversation with JK Rowling on the work of the Lumos Foundation. Normally, at these sort of things, I would go all out on Ravenclaw pride. But I went as a Gryffindor—a Gryffindor in search of magic and hope, things the world of Harry Potter had always given me. And yet, what struck me most was something different: the work of the Lumos Foundation and how they persevered in building positive, loving communities for children when the world can seem so dark.
I know a lot about darkness, so much so that I am regularly called the “Queen of Darkness” by those that know me well. But it’s for that reason that I also know that while darkness is part of us—a part of humanity—it does not define us. It does not define any individual, woman or child. It is a reasonable response to look at circumstance, especially truly awful circumstance, in a defining way. I choose to participate in Dressember because I believe that a person is worth more than their circumstance; that they are, in fact, a whole person, imperfectly perfect. The dress is our acknowledgement that she is more than her wounds—she is quick, she is clever, she is brave.
That last one is particularly important in these tiring times. When I walked into my office on November 9th in lower Manhattan, an office populated almost exclusively by women, it was like someone died. The sinking I felt in my own heart was not isolated. It was palpable in the elevator, meeting rooms and every corridor I passed. Colleagues greeted me with shocked, heart-wrenched faces and we exchanged hugs between meetings. Lunches and after-work drinks were not just a passing notion between co-workers, but a necessary function in the day. Assistants already scared by the fragility of the publishing industry felt they had been betrayed by older voters and worried even more for their future. Mothers feared for the world their daughters would grow up in. My own manager told me how she struggled to tell her young kids how to respond to our newly-elected misogynistic bully.
Couple that cold reality with the hard figures on these issues. 70% of the victims of human trafficking are women and 50% are children. Young girls typically enter the garment industry at the age of 5 to be paid less than minimum wage for years on end at the mercy of fast fashion. Everyday violence runs rampant through the developing world to the point that 1 in 5 women is a victim of rape or attempted rape. Suddenly my fears seemed small—but not quite. This is a global, pervasive problem. Sexism exists between the walls. It travels through the pipes, creeping into our living rooms through floor vents, filling the air to capacity until it’s no longer an intruder—it’s normal.
Normal is a scary concept because once things are ‘normal’ they are accepted. Challenge the status quo and you’re accused of interfering with the team spirit. The thing is that ‘normal’ is not synonymous with ‘good’ or even ‘okay’. Normal is bigger than that and when things get big we don’t know what to do; so we are rendered helpless, quiet. We’d rather stay safe.
But as another dark and twisty woman once said, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth, and beauty come first.” To me, Dressember is goodness, truth, and beauty all wrapped up together, a Christmas trinity if you will. This simple idea of wearing a dress every day gives each of us an opportunity to speak up in this darkness, to celebrate the truth—that every woman is beautiful and should be treated with respect. Now is the time to be a Gryffindor.
I’d like to close with an original poem, which, somewhat ironically, I’m going to let speak for itself…
Just a Girl
I didn’t know what could be
Jumping into the space race
Big ball gowns at top of the Met
Prizes for literature, science too
Travels from here to Timbuktu
Then, over dinner, the dismissal:
She’s just a girl, my father said
We’d play baseball at the park
The boys would pitch to me soft
Speak over ideas on projects in German
Steal crayons before graduating to essays
The lady did not protest, knowing
She’s just a girl, my teacher said
Looking over my shoulder at law school
Two purposes I knew
The dances, broken shoes
Bottles of wine, a weight on me
And I’d cry weakly to go home
She’s just a girl, my boyfriend said
Smart shoes, pinstripe suit
Girl back together again
Labels were sellotape over loose limbs
Knocked again project after project
Spurned by a queen bee and her mates
To no credit of her own for the energy
She’s just a girl, my manager said
Nighttime coffee reran it all back again
Except for the pause of bright un-curtained light
Picked up my pantsuit, dust it off, took the keys
Nevermind greet the day. Greet the world.
Greet the world because I am a girl.
Bold. Creative. Daring. Effervescent.
That’s right—I’m just a girl.
To donate to our team page to support IJM and A21, two organizations fighting against slavery and injustice everyday, please click here.