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Pressing “Post” on Speaking Up

I could feel my stomach tightening as my finger hovered over the “Post” button. I swallowed, trying to shove the nerves back down my throat. What was going on? It was just an Instagram post, right? A simple square, a picture, some text. Nothing life-changing. Just a quick announcement about an event coming up in a few weeks. So why was I so anxious?

Last winter, I created Girl Speak, an event-based organization built to foster education and action on issues affecting teenage girls as an answer to the calling I’d felt for years. When I first started labeling myself a feminist in middle school, I began searching for a way to become more engaged in social justice work and start making more of an impact on the world.

I struggled to find a central cause to take on that I felt connected to. For a long time I did volunteer work here and there and posted many rants on social media, but my efforts felt unfocused. I was drifting. I’d told myself I wanted to be an activist, but I wasn’t acting on anything. It felt like a betrayal, a lie.

At the same time, I was examining my connection to Judaism, and as my Jewish identity evolved, so did my dedication to tikkun olam. My religious faith became deeply intertwined with my concept of community and global service; one did not exist without the other.

Suddenly, my lack of focus and action became a crisis of both my feminist and spiritual selves.

One day, though, I figured out my direction.

I can vividly remember the thought that went through my head: “Write what you know.” It had been hammered into me as a writer, a North Star to follow in the search for inspiration, and it occurred to me that there was no reason it couldn’t apply to my activism as well. I didn’t need to search for a cause; there was so much work to be done in the realm of my own experiences.

I began brainstorming Girl Speak as an answer to the questions I had about myself: What does it mean to have self-confidence? How can I work on claiming space and owning my voice? How do I navigate the mind-boggling world of high school social life? I spent weeks figuring out how I wanted Girl Speak to look, who I could bring in to share their knowledge, and even what my Instagram feed theme was going to be.

In the end, I created an event-based organization; each event centers around talks led by community experts on topics like body image and confidence, paired with workshops on the material I design. My intention has been to craft a space dedicated to education, discussion, and action around real issues affecting teenage girls.

And it had all led to this moment: pressing “Post” on the announcement I’d created for my very first Girl Speak event.

I was so proud of the work I’d done and couldn’t wait to share it with the world, so why was I having such a hard time? Why was I stalling? Why do I still stall each time I’m about to post about a new event or reach out to potential attendants?

Because opening yourself up to the world is terrifying.

No matter how proud we are of what we create, no matter how confident we are that it’s important and beneficial and beautiful, putting it out there for everyone to see and judge takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability. Even more than that, asking people to evaluate your creation and decide if it’s good enough for them to dedicate time to feels highly personal; it often feels to me like I’m asking people to decide if they think I’m good enough, if I’m important, if I’m worthwhile.

I’ve struggled tremendously with self-promotion. I often feel like I’m bragging or being arrogant, or that what I’ve made isn’t really worthy of people’s attention. It’s an issue that’s based on both a fundamental questioning of the space I take up (or don’t take up) in the world, and also a fear of putting myself out there.

Luckily, in these moments of wavering, I have places to which I can turn. I look to my heroes—the women risking far more than some mockery at school to stand up for what they believe in, and I look to my faith. Stories of influential Jewish women in history remind me that there’s a long line of powerful Jewish women standing behind me, women who have my back and who are ready to catch me if I fall.

And, through it all, I’ve realized that in the end, I just have to do it. I have to press “Post” because who knows what amazing things will result from putting my work out there? My first Girl Speak event was a success and each one since has taught me more.

Learning how to share what I create and to ask for people’s attention is going to be a lifelong process as I continue to grow my belief in myself and become more comfortable being vulnerable. It’s a journey that I’m excited to take and that’s worthwhile because I know that I do deserve to take up space, and that the work I’m doing matters.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Feminism
3 Comments
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Dear Emma,

Girl Speak is a great idea. I wish you success with your effort to involve teens in discussions. I am almost 92.now. I wish I had had this kind of open discussion when I was your age.

Marianne Lieberman

 

 

YES EMMA! you are truly inspirational 

Love this! 

How to cite this page

Cohn, Emma. "Pressing “Post” on Speaking Up." 10 December 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/pressing-post-on-speaking-up>.

Photograph from event about body image presented by Girl Speak, an event-based organization created by 2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Emma Cohn to foster education and action around issues facing teenage girls.

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