Have you ever felt invisible? Like maybe it’s possible that people literally do not hear or see you? Have you ever begun to wonder if you actually exist? I feel that way. It may seem like an over reaction to question your existence. You might be thinking, “of course you aren’t invisible, I’m looking at you right now!” But invisibility doesn’t happen all at once. You don’t just disappear. You slowly fade away.
This is the story of one girl’s fading. It happens at SPU. It starts out with little things. I would say things in class and get literally no reaction. A man would say the same thing within five minutes and you’d think he had solved world hunger because the students and professor would come alive at the thought. No big deal right? Maybe they just needed a few minutes to think about the concept. Maybe I hadn’t articulated it well. Maybe they didn’t hear me. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe.
It kept happening: different classes, different professors and different students. Consistently. Persistently. Maybe can only take you so far. Eventually you realize that the commonality is you. You aren’t seen. You aren’t enough. Your voice and ideas and body don’t matter. This is when you begin to fade.
To fight against being unheard you raise your voice. To fight invisibility you try to make yourself noticeable. If my constructive thoughts were not received perhaps argumentative ones would be. I began weaving intentionally controversial statements into my class participation. Hoping that someone would argue with me. Hoping that someone would notice. Nothing. Crickets. So I began making statements that were intentionally incorrect, hoping that the professor would at least interact with me. Nine times out of ten, they did not engage me at all. So I faded.
I attended a class that was team-taught and attend a lecture in that course that was blatantly sexist. Apparently women are overly sexed, problematic for men and deeply unprofessional unless they actively work to neutralize their femininity. I took my concerns about this lecture to the co-teacher and was told that there was something wrong with me if I could not see past the “poor delivery” to the educational truth I am supposed to have learned from it. I was told that I should be the bigger person, even though the reality is the professors have more power, education, experience and should be more mature (at least chronologically if not emotionally and spiritually).
I felt like I was not the valued member of the community. I felt like I was being framed as “the problem.” I felt like I was being told to shut up and fade away. I felt invisible. I was both unseen and made to bear the responsibility for being unseen.
If you are treated as “less than” long enough, you begin to believe it. I’ve been called a bitch more often since coming to campus than in the rest of my life combined. I’ve even begun to refer to myself that way. I’ve begun to live into my invisibility. I’ve gained weight as a way of making myself even less visible. I’ve stopped trying in class because true engagement would require vulnerability. I don’t have the energy for that anymore. I came to SPU to find my voice but I seem to have lost it. I’ve lost myself. I am invisible.