You’ve Got a Friend

By Margaret Pilarski

At first it was slow – an invitation here, a question there. Facebook notifications and emails, texts and coffee dates. The 2016 election had suddenly galvanized swaths of slack-jawed citizens who were tired of staring at CNN and wanted to get to work. I was one of those women who was added to every list of potential pantsuit-wearing marchers.

As much as we slander the over-use of technology, the pings I was getting allowed me to reconnect with progressive friends across the country and across town. The notifications continued. Join this group – it’s secret! Read this article – it has the answer! Attend this meeting – we’ll make a plan! Fast and furious, groups formed and conversations kicked off with well-meaning but cloudy missions. People were waking up to reality but the new world was just beginning to come into focus.

As an invitee to many Facebook groups, email chains and anxious happy hours, I happily stand at an intersection of good people who want to get to work. I get it. I am them. I, too, want to fight for equity and justice.

I’ve learned that it’s not another digital petition that moves the needle, but rather a lot of conversations with friends, family and strangers. I’m privileged to be able to know so many people for whom discussions of inequity and activism are everyday occurrences. Despite us not having solved the world before 2016 – or since then – I’ve felt lucky to have cultivated feminist families to whom I can turn in those moments when the world seems like it’s fallen off its axis. It’s the grounding of these groups that keeps me fighting in the face of #metoo traumas and abject horror at the current state of affairs most days.

There’s one group in particular: We’re college friends who fell quiet after graduation, but thanks to technology, we’ve reconnected. No one lives in the same city, but in this group chat, we’re just around the corner from one another. It’s where we share recipes that work for vegetarians and crock pots. We interpret behavior by mothers and husbands. Share techniques we learned from therapists and YouTube. Take votes on whether this dress is good for a small fall wedding with a chance of rain and whether this face cream is an internet scam (but I’m probably going to buy it anyway).

In college, all of us probably defined “feminism” a little differently. Today we might still describe it differently. But it was this group that let me scream (or type) into the void during the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings. It’s here where we talk about raising toddlers with age-appropriate understandings of consent. It’s here where we think of ways to fight back against sexual harassment online. (Hey Joseph, we sent those screenshots to your mom!)

I’ve never needed to label the way I talked with friends as “feminist,” but the truth is that the friendships I have that are unapologetically feminist are the ones that make me stronger and shine light on the way forward.

If I could offer a way forward to others while we grapple with the realities of our world, it would be to find feminist spaces that build you up and to center yourself. To seek and craft a space where you can be brilliant, bossy, challenged, vulnerable, helpful, humorous, angry, tired and most of all – open.

When I witnessed that rumble in late 2016, all those notifications and invitations, part of my takeaway was that we weren’t already talking enough. That an election felt like the floor was dropping out from under too many of us.

If threats to civil liberties or the ignorance of our representatives give you pause, I’m with you. There are a lot of us with you. If you don’t yet have a gal gang group text in your phone, you can start looking for hope, humor, conversation and feminism in a few other places:

Social Media
I check in on Twitter and Instagram daily and look for new accounts to follow for a different point of view. There’s no pressure to talk back, but it’s a great way to explore concepts that you’re not familiar with.

@feministabulous – Liz Plank is a quippy writer who commentates on the news and produces bite-sized sketches that incorporate recent headlines. Perfect for a beginner feminist. She’s on Twitter and Instagram with the same handle.

@ErynnBrook – She’s known for long, ranting threads (in a good way!) on Twitter. Erynn also started nicewhiteladies.com, a place to begin learning about racial justice.

@rachel.cargle – Rachel is critical of feminism that isn’t intersectional, and she calls out privilege and white-centered feminism quickly. On her Instagram profile, she has a link syllabus with suggested reading for a better understanding of white supremacy, patriarchy and productive allyship.

#wokecharlotte – an Instagram hashtag started by the account @everytoutfitonsatc wherein Charlotte’s lines from “Sex and the City” are rewritten to  call out appropriation, misogyny and shaming. It’s perfect for the generation that binged SATC.

Messaging Apps
If your smartphone’s group texts are getting unwieldy, choose another platform to keep everyone in touch and talking.

GroupMe – My brilliant book club uses GroupMe for updates and invitations beyond monthly meetings. If someone doesn’t download the app, it still uses their regular SMS. Ideal for coordinating what you’re wearing to the next protest.

WhatsApp – Similar to GroupMe, WhatsApp is a chatting app that serves people using different phones and in different countries.

Slack – A group of likeminded women I know use Slack, a chat app for both phone and computer where you can subdivide topics like Netflix recs and urgent calls for email proofreading. You follow and contribute to group “channels” or send direct messages to other members. It’s ideal for groups you want to grow that will discuss a variety of things.

Here in Charleston
Get involved in the community here to make friends IRL. There are too many small groups to list, but this is where I’d start to channel your strengths and find new ideas.

College of Charleston – The students here are our future citizens. If we invest in them with mentorships and opportunities, we enrich their lives outside the classroom.

Women’s and Gender Studies at CofC – I joined the College’s Women’s and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board as a student because I saw great potential for the campus and the community to join together. See what the Women’s and Gender Studies program is up to at blogs.cofc.edu/wgsconnect.

Skirt – This magazine always features women-centered events, which are great ways to meet new friends, or find an outlet for your passions.

Margaret is a graduate of the College of Charleston and a past chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board. She is a co-mentor in the College’s Martin Scholars program and a longtime co-host of the annual Yes! I’m a Feminist party that takes place on campus. In a past life, she was the editor of Skirt, and today she works at Outline as director of brand strategy and content. You can find her on social media using @hellomadge.