Thursday, September 10, 2015

What is my body worth?

In this post written by SLMDances’ 2015 summer intern Wassa Bagayoko, she reflects on her experience working with the company in the midst of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement. Wassa is a junior at The Chapin School in Manhattan.

As a young woman -- and a young woman of color at that -- the life I lead is cut with a double edged sword of oppression. One side is being a woman. An ageless handicap, being a woman has entailed setbacks on a spectrum of second hand citizenship, to inherit blame in the conversation of sexual harassment. The struggle of being African American tells a story in itself; the role of African American and Black people (along with other groups) has been in roles of subordination. Living a life where these two things influence how other perceive me, I often make parallels between the two to help friends on one side or the other better understand my life. One parallel I use the most is between people of color when discussing police brutality and women on the topic of street harassment; the focal point of the talk being the preemptive actions one must take to avoid assault in an already corrupt system.

This summer, when laying down the groundwork for The Window Sex Project tour, I was very aware of street harassment and how it impacted me. How I responded and how others around me responded, if at all. One time when walking down the street, an old man called out out to me, and my friend apologized to me. I felt angry, then disgusting, and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure as to why. I’d done nothing wrong. One of my favorite things about The Window Sex Project is its validation of the individual experience; anti-street harassment groups often focus on prevention, which in itself is commendable, but validation of one’s emotions is also an important part to the process. In that moment, I didn’t need an apology, just someone to tell me that what I felt was okay, that I had a right to my feelings. Sometimes, with big civil rights movements like the Feminism and #BlackLivesMatter movement, I feel that the individual experience is lost in the vastness of the issues. Stories, experiences, and the ability to move someone with these tools come from it, and I really found that to be at the forefront of my mind this summer. Why was TWSP tour even happening? A part of it, the most important to me, is exposure and conversations. Conversations. The right ones are such an integral part of solutions and I think TWSP tour emphasises that. It’s definitely taught me to try and evoke that in conversations.

I was lucky enough towards the end of the summer to sit in on a rehearsal for the upcoming Body Business show. There’s this one part of the performance that has to do with worth. Since I spent a majority of this summer working with street harassment, I initially interpreted this aspect as individual worth being the shape of one's body. As I continued to think about it however, I realized that our worth is often set by so many aspects of our bodies; the size and shape, the color of our skin, the clothes we wear. It was with this experience that I realized that the overarching problem with civil rights issues is that individual worth is comprised of one aspect of a person. For some people, my worth in in the color of my skin, for others it’s how I look. This can be found in any civil rights struggle; people being simplified to one aspect of themselves. Like anyone who has been apart of a civil rights movement, I just want to be seen as human, just as complex and imperfect as any other. The steps necessary in making that desire a reality are present in the Body Business show and The Window Sex Project. Understanding that my self-worth is defined by myself and myself only has helped me to walk around with a new look on my life and my surroundings. I'm grateful for this lesson, and I’m grateful for the experience that came along with it. It is, without a doubt, something that will be with me for a long time.

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