"Because I'm a girl:” Ali's Why
After being introduced to human trafficking through a panel discussion at a community engagement event, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that human trafficking exists, let alone that it is rampant in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. This shock led me to choose human trafficking as a focal topic for a presentation on “a local issue” assigned by my Contemporary U.S. History teacher. If you’ve heard my story before, whether on the blog or in person, you’ve heard about how my teacher failed my proposal because “human trafficking isn’t a local issue.” You’ve probably also heard about how I moved forward with the project anyway, received high marks and a sincere apology from a man with a changed heart. I’ve advocated for anti-human trafficking efforts ever since, but many people have asked why? Why, when there are so many different issues our world faces, have I stayed engaged with anti-human trafficking efforts, especially when it can seem like there is no chance of eliminating this industry?
I’ve had to do some pretty deep soul-searching to find an answer, but I’ve realized that it’s because I’m a girl.
I’m not trying to start any debates surrounding gender or roles, but this is my story. When I was younger, I was your stereotypical girly-girl. I wore dresses, played with dolls and loved dress-up. I never thought much of this behavior until one day at recess, in kindergarten, a group of boys chased me around the playground because, “she doesn’t have a penis.” They caught up to me and confirmed for themselves, and when my parents called the school asking for disciplinary action, we were told I was lying. I stopped wearing dresses for a while, because I didn’t feel comfortable in them anymore. It wasn’t a forever deal; they slowly made their way back into my closet, but I never wore them as freely as I had before.
Moving forward, my interests shifted from dance and gymnastics to basketball and ski jumping. In a family dominated by boys, and in a rather sporty friend group, I found myself focused on athletics rather than aesthetics. As I continued in male-dominated sports, I constantly dealt with being told I was never going to be good enough, or that I didn’t deserve to be there. I found this to be true as a ski jumper. After all, Women’s Ski Jumping wasn’t added to the Winter Olympics until 2014, (even though Men’s Ski Jumping has been around since the beginning). When I made the boys’ soccer team my teammates told me it was just because they needed a goalie and that I should stop taking up their space on the field. When I was made captain, they told me it was just a political move and that our coach’s speech about my hard work and perseverance was just for show.
Almost every girl I’ve talked to has had some kind of experience similar to mine. Whether in the workplace, at school, or in sports, we have all faced something, and I think the #MeToo movement was a great demonstration of that. I also recognize that there is a lot of polarization surrounding the feminist movement, women’s marches and other fights for equality, but with human trafficking, we can all agree it needs to stop. Nothing that I have experienced comes close to what a survivor of human trafficking has gone through, but at the core, these experiences result from people not treating others as humans. I get mad when I get treated differently than the boys do, but I can’t imagine being treated solely as a body that is there for someone else’s benefit the way those caught in human trafficking are. It is a fight worth fighting, and it is for the dignity of those victims I fight. I find my motivation in their strength and in knowing that they want to be freed. I can’t give up when others don’t always have the choice to.
I keep fighting and advocating through Dressember because reclaiming the dress the way Dressember does resonates with me. After my experience in kindergarten, wearing dresses made me feel weak and vulnerable. As I grew up, I thought I had to dress as much as a guy as possible in order for them to respect me. I’ve now found different reasons to love sweatpants and baggy t-shirts, (let’s be real, they are SO comfortable), but I love engaging with Dressember and showing that I can be powerful and make a difference regardless of what I wear.
Raise your voice against slavery this December!
Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!
About the Author
Ali Pollard is a winter gal at heart who loves trying new things and traveling to new places. When she's not finishing her homework or consuming absurd amounts of coffee, she loves skiing and playing the saxophone. Ali is hoping to turn her passion for human rights into a career as she studies the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance (yes, that's all one major!) and political science at the University of Minnesota.