Our next Inspiring Women Interview of 2022 presents Emily Wang, the Assistant Producer for Dear Katie: Survival Stories & Lab Technician at University of Michigan. Emily has also worked with the Take Back the Night Foundation and is committed to helping stop gender based violence.
Tell us a little bit about the different roles you play.
I’ll talk primarily about the podcast since that’s where most of my activism work is going these days…Recently, in the process of working with Take Back the Night, we thought about better sharing survivor stories with the public and discussing journeys of healing. So, with Kelsey Stiles and Katie Koestner, together, we developed the Dear Katie podcast. The format of the podcast is that we share a story from a survivor and discuss a little bit about how their whole healing journey went, and any lessons that they took away from that process. So, that’s primarily what I do on the media side. Other things that I do….I’m a lab technician at the University of Michigan — so, trying to complete my education… I recently graduated from the University of Michigan and I continue to work in the lab that I worked at as an undergrad, while looking at master’s programs, Ph.D. programs, higher education, etc.
“We all have a role to play in…combating the ways that we think about our boundaries, about other people’s boundaries, in the ways that we discuss violence and discuss gender discrepancies”
What is something that people might not understand about gender-based violence?
I think this can sometimes be taken a little bit controversially, so I want to make it clear that this is a personal stance and not reflective of any organizations that I’m affiliated with. But, I think people often think of rapists as evil, deviant people within society, and we kind of push them to the side…And, we want to dissociate ourselves from people who commit that violence because it allows us to not take responsibility for the ways that we contribute to it…When we think of, “Well, rapists are just evil that’s why they did what they did” instead of discussing the further culture that contributes to that mindset—that allows people to commit those acts of violence, and allows us to say, “Well, that’s fine, right?”—we continue to victim blame. We continue to push these narratives so that we can kind of remove ourselves from any responsibility…We all have a role to play in combating this and combating the ways that we think about our boundaries, about other people’s boundaries, in the ways that we discuss violence and discuss gender discrepancies and all of that…everyone has responsibility, and everyone needs to contribute to this ongoing conversation.
Can you talk about victim-blaming, and what that looks like?
I think it’s not just applicable to sexual violence, it’s applicable to almost everything…whether it be racism or class, and the conflicts that can occur between employers and their employees…[A]ll of these conflicts hold that common thread of …“You should have done this, that’s why they’re treating you like this”, “It’s because you should have done this to prevent it”. I think a lot of people have this mindset because to a certain extent, it’s protective, right? I’d like to believe that there’s a way that I could have prevented this because, otherwise, it makes me feel unsafe, that my fate is at the hands of someone else…But, I think there’s this other more sinister side of it; where we don’t want to hold that person responsible because, deep down, we know that there are circumstances where we could have done that, where we could have done something similar…So, I think the key way to address that is to think about, “Well, just because this person did this bad thing and just because all of these external circumstances may have influenced them to do that, just because the victim did this, this and that, that doesn’t excuse that ultimate boundary-pushing, the disrespect that occurred”. And that is inexcusable, right? That is something that they need to take responsibility for regardless of those external circumstances.
” We actually need to model the behavior that we want to see changed. “
What can a parent do to teach their young son about boundaries, behavior, and respecting people?
I think parents sometimes can teach this very negative cycle of “You did something bad! I’m going to punish you!” “And that’s why this thing is bad is because I’m going to punish you for it”. As opposed to saying and thinking, “Well, how can I get my child to really take responsibility for this and change their behavior moving forward?” This is something that I’m actually a really big fan of —gentle parenting. I’ve been seeing a lot of that media on my Facebook, my Tik Tok, all of it, and I think the common message is that “Make sure that the consequences, whatever they are, are correlated to the thing that they did wrong. Otherwise, it’s an external thing”… We are often told this shame-guilt process that prevents us from really taking responsibility and learning, and growing. But, I think really modeling that, “Okay, I did something bad, that doesn’t necessarily mean, I’m a terrible person”…”I need to take responsibility for this” “How do I improve things moving forward?” [behavior] , is probably the most important thing…We actually need to model the behavior that we want to see changed.
“…defining my life based on something that was ultimately external to me was not going to be helpful to my…self-esteem and self-compassion, so I tried to reorient myself to define success as living a life that I felt, fulfilled my values.”
How do you define success?
Ooo, so that’s something that I’ve had a lot of difficulty defining for myself. I think there are a lot of these external social factors that tell you “This is what success looks like, this is what you should aspire to be, this is what you want”… And defining my life based on something that was ultimately external to me was not going to be helpful to my personal self-esteem and self-compassion, so I tried to reorient myself to define success as living a life that I felt, fulfilled my values. And that, to me, was integrity and honesty, that was being respectful and kind, and compassionate. So, as long as I did that, every single day of my life, that was something that I considered successful. That, to me, is success: that I’ve lived my life being kind, being honest, having integrity, really trying to pursue what’s true to myself, as opposed to what other people are telling me to do.
Has there been a turning point in your life or career that you had to push through?
When I started university that was when my sexual assault occurred. I went through this whole six months of a really depressive state, where I kind of confronted all of my feelings about everything. And, it wasn’t just “Oh, the sexual violence happened to me”, it made me feel like a stranger in my own body…Also made me question why I was doing everything that I was doing. “Why are you studying in college? Why are you doing any of this?” It also forced me to confront the fact that this violence was the culmination of a pattern in my life that I had seen before. It was a combination of a pattern of not setting my own boundaries; being told by other people that they had a right to violate my own boundaries because they did something for me…And so, there’s this huge turning point where I was like, I can’t continue on the path that I’ve been pushed into because this is going to happen again. It’s going to happen again, and again, and again, if I don’t do something about it. So, that was kind of my big turning point. That’s what pushed me towards sexual violence prevention work…It pushed me towards Take Back the Night. And a lot more of the things that I think I find fulfilling today, I found as a consequence of having to do that exploration.
What advice would you give to your young self or fellow young women?
I think the thing that we’re often told, as young women, is that we are responsible for everyone else’s feelings, everyone else’s emotions, everyone else’s “whatevers”. That we have to conform to them and make them comfortable, while completely negating our own comfort, our own safety, or our own feelings. Constantly being told that if we do anything for ourselves that we’re self-absorbed and selfish. I think I would probably tell my younger self and other young women, “It’s okay to be selfish”…It’s okay because if other people think that you setting boundaries and you focusing on yourself, and what you genuinely want as opposed to other people, is selfish, then they’re probably not the best people to have in your life…In truth, what you end up finding is that there are a lot of people who actually respect you for who you are. There are a lot of people who will support you, regardless of what you choose, if you are acting true to yourself.
Nominated by Kelsey Styles
“Emily is a super genius (a biologist with a specialization in gender & health currently applying to doctoral programs) who also somehow has time to be a producer for the Dear Katie: Survivor Stories podcast.”
Why Emily wang is On this List
“Emily was a delight to meet and talk to her! Her work on the podcast and with nonprofits is inspiring and she has such a down-to-earth approach to talking about serious issues that affect many of us but are often considered too delicate or insensitive to tackle.”
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