It’s been one year since I helped found VocaLady Magazine. I launched it from my home computer, after spending hours building a website on WordPress, writing a welcome post and editing Trisha’s mission statement. After that, my co-founder and I created multiple social media accounts where we planned to share articles in hopes of directing attention back to the website. We had a Google Doc of ideas, timelines and campaign plans to get ourselves out there. In 2015, my co-founder, Trisha, and I were two college students, fresh out of our first year, with a semi-handle on things and an idea along with a desire to spread that idea. A lot has changed in one year.
I can’t say my freshman year of college was one of my greatest. Rather than leaving feeling triumphant and excited to go back, I left feeling ashamed, alone, and lost. In high school, I’d been somewhat more confident; I had a firm handle on who I was and what I was passionate about. But, a year into college, I no longer felt like I knew what was important to me or what I was good at. I’d met the wrong people, devoted my attention to the wrong things, lost control of my passions, my ideas, my writing and my sleep schedule. College didn’t awaken anything in me; it left me feeling drained and out-of-place. Everyone at my university had something they were good at, passionate about, and I felt like I had nothing I could stick to. I felt small. I knew I was a feminist, but could I really change anything for women? I loved writing, but could anything ever come of my writing? Was it good enough?
While I perceived those around me to be excelling far past me (special note on the word perceive, because just because I felt it doesn’t necessarily mean it was true), I was struggling to get up in the morning and get through my classes without the crushing feeling of inadequacy that left me sullen and anxious. Stumbling from one major to the next, trying to find something I thought would benefit me and interest me, I finally found myself studying strategic communications, at the urging of friends I’d made in a student media organization, declaring just before freshman year concluded and I packed up to go home. In retrospect, that was always where I was meant to be. Yet, I lied to myself, convincing myself that other areas of study were somehow more beneficial, failing to see how the amount of work one puts into the field of communications is proportional to the amount one gets out of it.
My welcome post on this site tells you what happened next: one night, snuggled up with my boyfriend for a movie night, I finally felt inspiration and I contacted a close friend to see if she was interested in helping me. After watching the documentary Miss Representation and after years of exposure to poor media representations of women, I finally saw the collision of two my passions before my eyes: feminism and communications. We could do better for women, I decided, and it takes our ability to communicate.
My friend and eventual co-founder, Trisha, and I created VocaLady with the mission of empowering other women like us, pursuing a degree in the field of communications or working in that field, to lift up their voices and help defeat a relentless and exhausting narrative that puts down women and other marginalized groups. A lot has changed in one year. And I would argue all for the better.
In numbers, I’ve seen the magazine grow phenomenally. From two college student staff members to over ten. From zero followers on our social media accounts to hundreds. From two articles a week to five or six. From one or two Google documents full of ideas to many. From ten page views to thousands.For me, I’ve seen amazing things happen and I’ve learned. I’ve grown. We’ve grown. First, our feminism has expanded. In the early months of the magazine, I grounded our philosophy in this feminist one: women should empower other women in lifting up each other’s voices. One of my first articles (and arguably, one of my more successful) discussed the toxicity of female competition and where it comes from and how to beat it. After gaining attention from other feminist writers, I became aware of what I was missing via an honest critique by another writer. I had been speaking with my white, middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied voice and I’d spoken about female competition without regard for how my privilege and experience varied greatly from that of women with different identities. I had treated my limited experience as a universal one which failed my own mission. It was one of my first lessons, and a lesson learned by and reflected in the magazine. I learned I had to stare my privilege in the face and acknowledge it. I had to listen. I learned that I had to look around at my staff, at our articles, at our message and ask: who is our audience? Who are we catering to? Who are we leaving out? How can we do better?
Thus, intersectionality became (and remains) an on-going conversation within the VocaLady staff and I became grateful for a staff that is open about identity, that challenges one another and myself to consider different voices and different experience. I learned that it’s a discussion that never ends and never should. I learned to question myself and those I work with every single day. What is your feminism if not intersectional?
Next, I watched our mission change. Primarily, I sought to cater solely to women studying communications or already in that field. To me, these women were to be the game-changers. The news anchor who could challenge tired stereotypes about powerful women on air. The novelist who could top the New York Times list. The public relations specialist who uses positive and effective storytelling to spread her message.
And yet, as my staff grew and so did our reader base and we began to expand our writings to all college-aged individuals, though mostly those who identify as women*, I began to see that one doesn’t need a degree or a career to be a communicator. Changing and re-shaping a harsh narrative around women and other marginalized groups didn’t need to solely come from the media. For example, it can come a doctor who speaks openly to young people about their sexuality. It can come from a student who isn’t sure yet, but knows what they’re passionate about and who they are. It can come from any of us. And so, our writings became more inclusive on that front.
In a year, I’ve seen this magazine become a place for discourse, for transgression, for honesty. It became a place where a sexual assault survivor bravely told her story. It became a place where staff members shared personal stories of identity, whether it be gender identity, sexual orientation, or race as well as stories of personal struggle and experience, ranging from mental health to disordered eating to relationship struggles. It became a place where traditional narratives have been challenged and the everyday things, from the daily media that we consume to choice phrases, have been addressed critically. It became a place where readers felt as though they heard themselves reflected, speaking back to them. Questions could be asked and answered here, as we became a place not of judgment, but of advice and learning. Not all of our writers or readers may be studying communications or seeking a career there and yet, they are communicators. Within this magazine, I watched as individuals became vulnerable, paring open a part of themselves not often seen, but they remained truthful, sharing their narrative and exceeding in making it their own.
I have endless praise for my staff as they’re all stars. For them, this may merely be a stepping stone, I know, in an amazing journey they will all take in life, but I’m grateful for the endless love, care and strength they’ve put back into this magazine. As they excel forward with internships, other writing gigs, academic success and more, I thank them for helping this magazine grow and truly bringing it to life, as I’ve watched them grow alongside it.
And in this year, I’ve also grown. If you were to compare myself a year ago with myself now, you’d find two drastically different people. I found my niche in this magazine. I began to re-shape who I was through my writing. My values began to shine through. Today, I’m coming down from a high of an amazing second year of school where I excelled not only academically, socially and professionally, but personally. I may not know what I want to do (but who does at 20?), but I know I’m proud of who I am and I’ve learned to trust myself.
In one year, I’ve developed pride and confidence, but I’ve also been humbled by those that surround me. I am excited to keep developing as a magazine, as a staff, as a reader base, as I equally treat this experience as my classroom and develop further myself. I want to see more followers, more articles, more page views. I intend to build up this magazine further in the coming year, widening our circle, little by little. Numbers aside, I want to hear more voices and I want to hear more truth, more stories, more analysis. I want to continue to develop and re-shape our mission until it’s all-inclusive and more powerful than ever.
And now, I’ll ask you, reader, a question I ask myself as the conclusion of every personal pursuit—this pursuit being one successful year of VocaLady Magazine—and that is: what’s next?
*Note: when we refer to “women” we mean anyone who identifies as so, regardless of physical presentation. However, as we expand, we will continue to be mindful of different gender identities and experience and work towards inclusion of marginalized gender identities.