During the summer of 2014, I had my first exposure to the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute as a trainee. Since then, I have returned to be an intern during the summer of 2015 and look forward to doing the same this summer. BALI came into my life during a pivotal time when I was really discovering myself as a young adult. I have always identified as a feminist, but BALI really solidified this for me. It taught me what it means to put beliefs into action and how to create safer spaces for women and girls.
BALI was one of my first experiences in an exclusively feminist space and more specifically, one that caters to the needs of young women and girls. Its dual purpose of combating both sexism and adultism really highlighted the importance of these communities and spurred my larger interest in social justice.
The lessons that I’ve learned through BALI have had a profound impact on my life, specifically when it comes to having my voice heard. During one of the first days of BALI training, a speaker taught me something that I continue to think about to this day. If you want something, ask for it. This is a pretty simple concept, one that I understood in theory, but not in practice. I find that oftentimes, young women internalize sexism and believe that they mustn’t appear weak by asking for help.
This is indicative of several larger societal flaws, including the emphasis on an individualist culture, rather than a collectivist one. Our society is so centered on independent excellence and doesn’t pay mind to the needs of the wider community. This results in self-serving behavior, as well as the dominant notion that asking for help is equivalent to freeloading.
Additionally, it is representative of the systemic repression of women’s needs and desires. It perpetuates the silencing of marginalized voices. Women are hesitant to voice their wants for fear of being judged or denied. When they do voice their wants, they are categorized as needy, glutinous, or bossy.
Learning that it is okay to ask for help or to take what you want has changed my thinking and behavior in several ways. I am less likely to let an opportunity pass me by because of my own insecurities or inhibitions. I no longer hesitate to (respectfully!) speak my mind when I know I have something valuable to contribute. I am now working on reaching out to people when I need help. Most importantly, I take advantage of the support systems and networks that I am privileged to be a part of, such as the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute.