Woman Power

December 15, 2020

This piece was originally published in UTS Vertigo (2020): Euphoria | Artwork: Elby Chai @elbowchai

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Maya Angelou
Poet, Activist, and All-Around Icon

I’m sure most of you know old mate Imposter Syndrome — I hear he gets around. But if the name doesn’t ring any bells, it merely means the persistent inability to believe that one’s own success is deserved, warranted, or legitimately achieved as the result of one’s own skills or efforts. That despite it all coming from you, it somehow didn’t. You don’t deserve the success, and one day, everyone will find out.

If you ask me, Imposter Syndrome is adult business. I never experienced it as a kid, but that’s how you are when you’re young: you don’t calculate the risks, you don’t care for the rules, you don’t care what people think. You either do things because you have to, or want to.

It shocks me to reflect on how readily I welcomed new opportunities back then. At almost age twenty, for me, that initial excitement is always followed with overwhelming doubt. Even applying to be a part of the Vertigo 2020 team, which allows me to share stories like this, was terrifying. When this happens, I try not to let feelings of doubt become confirmation of my imagined unworthiness. I pray that more women go after what they want, and find clarity in knowing that there’s an inherent audacity applauded in men — men like Donald Trump — that allows them to walk head-held-high into positions and spaces they aren’t qualified for or entitled to. So, why are so many overqualified women questioning their right to assume positions they were born worthy of?

I grew up passionate and opinionated about many, many things — as well as one of eight siblings. If one sibling didn’t want to hear my ramblings, I just moved onto the next and hoped for better luck. But then I hit that weird limbo between primary and high school, when cringe culture is at its highest and there’s no longer a promise that someone will listen. Without my friends to annoy, and my siblings sick and tired of my ramblings, where was I to unleash all my social commentaries? On whom was I to foist absolutely amazing book recommendations?

So after some technical help from my mother, I created a blog — A Sunny Spot — where I spent my first high school year developing square eyes and spamming my three followers. I was well aware that my blog was on private and could only be viewed by link, but truth be told, I wasn’t looking for followers, or a response of any kind. I just knew that if I didn’t have somewhere to dump all of my thoughts, I would literally combust. And there’s nothing more cathartic than that sweet release.

Eventually, I decided to make my blog public, and suddenly received my first comment  — from someone who wasn’t related to me. I was gobsmacked. You mean there’s more of us?! How come no one told me?! I didn’t even read other people’s blogs; I knew nothing of the ways of the blogging world. But in the months that followed, I became internet friends with this stranger and discovered that she also blogged about books. Through her, I connected with others. We called ourselves the YA Book Bloggers and formed groups in Australia and the States, though the majority of my friends were from the UK, and all but one were female.

As we exchanged thoughtful comments on each other’s posts and chatted into the wee hours, we found safety in our shared love of books. Our fangirling was mocked in the schoolyard, but on the internet, it was our sacred language. Together, we navigated our awkward early teenage years and validated each other when the other kids at school would deem our interests (at best) ‘frivolous’. Or most commonly: ‘girl stuff’ — as if ‘girl’ made it lesser. ‘Girl power’ to us was an anthem, but to the world was a benign attempt at equality. So, when no one else recognised our achievements, we made up our own awards and nominated each other. We relentlessly promoted our internet friends and lined our sidebars with links to their blogs. Back then, we never second guessed our judgement or authority. This was a space we owned.

Though it was moneyless, and to the outside world pointless, through blogging we gave ourselves something money can’t buy: agency. From the age of twelve, I was in contact with publishers and regularly discussed marketing content with them. I began to receive advanced copies of books in exchange for reviews. Then came the invites to the exclusive book events, where I and other bloggers got to meet each other and some of our favourite authors, while receiving sneak peaks of the company’s upcoming titles.

At thirteen, I was asked to do media for the movie premiere of Divergent, where I stood bright-eyed in the roped-off section taking celeb pictures alongside professional photographers. Other than photographing books, I had zero experience. I was in way over my head, but was so thrilled to be there that I didn’t question my minimal skill-set when I accepted the offer.

But things changed again. Fandom became gendered. Our acclaim of books and music only seemed legitimised when months later, that same acclaim came from the mouth of a man. When a girl nerded out over a book, or cried over the departure of a boy band member, it was lame; when thousands of men gathered in stadiums, sporting team colours and cheering goals, it was business as usual. And as these disappointments mounted, high school grew harder. During the HSC, I took up English Extension 2 and wrote a 6,000 word story about being biracial in Australia. But the story brought up a lot of conversations that my white teacher was neither equipped nor prepared to have. At times, my growing voice was silenced. It was painful and uncomfortable; I felt defeated.

Even my outlets soured. Despite my blog having found its footing, my rigid schedule became less and less sustainable. I returned from long hiatuses feeling guilt-ridden and fraudulent, especially as the disappearances became longer and more frequent. Age brought a keen, rattling self-awareness. My followers were understanding, but I noticed that they too were changing and going off the grid. I was sorry that we could no longer afford to give so much time to each other, and the new world felt more lonely without them. The demands of our impending adulthood became more of a reality.

But with this new adult reality came a burgeoning curiosity. I began to discuss things like intersectional feminism, race, and body positivity. The internet helped me find movements I’d always resonated with, but never identified. Books are still vital to me — maybe now more than ever — as an escape, or a way to understand, but I finally realised what writer Audre Lorde meant when she wrote that, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies […] and eaten alive.” Don’t let other people’s fantasies eat you alive. When your voice is shaking, it’s really a sign to speak louder, not softer.

Growing up, in some ways, meant losing some of my confidence — but it doesn’t have to mean losing my girl power. The internet may have helped me find it, but I am the one who must decide to hang onto it. That fleeting fearlessness you have when you’re young is a gift — a gift that shows us what’s possible when we say ‘yes’ to ourselves. No one benefits from our silence or our self-deprecation. Our stories and our passions are the only things of which we have full ownership.

We owe it to our younger selves who dared so boldly to share them so proudly. We owe it to our fellow sisters and the emerging generation of young girls who need to see women who wear their vulnerability and difference proudly — women who take risks that seem impossible, but never are. I’ve learned privilege amplifies certain voices, and that it’s up to us to disrupt narratives that are harmful, false, or exclusionary. If we’re existing in an environment that wants us to either shrink or assimilate, then maybe it’s time to build our own table, rather than waiting for a seat at a table where love does not exist.

The story of my blog is by no means a sad or finished one, but it reminds me that real success can only be achieved when you are fueled not by ‘numbers’ but by joy — the kind of joy I felt as that combustible eleven-year-old craving self-expression. Now, thanks to poet Cleo Wade, as I step forward as a young adult, I am empowered by the wisdom that, “The best thing about girl power is that over time, it turns into woman power.”

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