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Life Lessons: Shelby Knox

Are you happy at the moment?

Yes, because I’m finally learning that happiness doesn’t equal perfection. I’m starting to trust that I do know what I want and how to get it and take concrete steps toward my goals. Right now, I’m focusing on loving the stumbles as much as I love the triumphs because the mistakes are making me a more whole, more empathetic person.

If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?

The world is much bigger than you think it is and one day you will be valued and loved for being exactly who you are. All the thoughts and traits that make you “weird” now are the thoughts and traits that will make you successful and happy when you grow up. Don’t spend your time trying to hide them or change them – nurture and embrace them.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

I’m learning to step back, listen, and support women whose lives, needs, and ideas are continually erased and devalued by women whose privilege set – white, cisgender, American, able-bodied, and financially secure – matches mine. Me in the foreground isn’t revolutionary, it’s the same pattern of oppression cloaked in pretty social justice terms. The feminist movement can and should only be successful if it is led and its goals set by the folks who are most marginalized. For me, that means learning to listen to people when they tell me how, where, and when I can be most helpful and taking a seat otherwise.

What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

For the past few years I’ve been jotting down notes and even whole chapters on a book on Forth Wave feminism, which is what I call the cohort of amazing young gender justice advocates on the front lines of the movement. My goal this year is to make my notes into a real book proposal and finally put my dream to paper.

What’s your secret to happiness?

Sisterhood. It’s easy to buy into the media narrative that there are a limited number of opportunities for women and we have to claw over each other to succeed. That’s patriarchy at work and I won’t play into its gnarly, wrinkled, old white dude hands. I have a coven of women who I try to meet with at least monthly to laugh, cry, drink, and plot. We teach each other what history books have tried desperately to make us forget: women, coming together to support each other and improve our communities, have been changing the world since it began.

What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?

Almost every morning I chronicle on Twitter what women accomplished on that day in history. It reminds me that I am one in a long line of women who imagine a better world and work to make one. Knowing the lives, the struggles, and the triumphs of the women who came before me reminds me that the march toward equality for all people is a long one and no one can or has to soldier alone.

What’s your biggest regret?

I spent a lot of time in college and the few years after graduation thinking that I didn’t deserve my success and that when people figured out I was an imposter, I’d lose everything. I realize now that I was making conscious choices in my life and my career that were making me succeed and I wasn’t just blowing in the wind. I’m still learning to take responsibility for my life and my choices, the good and the bad, and own my experience as valid and important. I have to do what I would want other women to do!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?

I don’t have children. I recently taught my cat not to bite me while I’m on the toilet. Does that count? 😉

What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?

I have an awful habit of berating myself for mistakes and doing it publicly and vocally. I think it’s bouts of low self-esteem combined with this stupid idea that if I talk bad about myself no one can think I’m conceited. I work with a lot of young women and I don’t want them to pick up this behavior from me. That, and it’s not good for my own soul. I’m trying to change it by writing down when I’m most likely to do this and make little reminder notes to express, to myself and others, self-love.

Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?

Right now, I’m most proud that I’m helping young feminists fight for what they believe and navigate the tricky waters of being put on a pedestal as young activists. I’ve helped the girls of SPARK Movement change the teen magazine industry and three girls put together a campaign for the first female presidential debate moderator in twenty years. At the same time, I hope that I’m teaching them that birthing themselves into the women they want to be is far more important and fulfilling than living up to the idea of being “the next” generation of a movement.

When were you happiest?

I think I’m happier right now than I’ve ever been. I used to think that if I didn’t achieve my goals by age 25, I’d failed and opportunities would start drying up. On the brink of 26 and realizing how absurd and ridiculous this is, I finally starting to feel free to do me and say screw you to everyone who wants me to live my life for them.

What ten words best describe you?

Evolving, passionate, daring, deliberate, protective, fallible, focused, sister, organizer, feminist.

Shelby Knox is a young feminist organizer most widely known for the film chronicling her fight for comprehensive sex education in her Texas hometown, The Education of Shelby Knox. She currently runs women’s rights campaigns for change.org and tweets from the front lines of the feminist revolution, @ShelbyKnox.

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1 Comment

  1. Janet

    August 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    I love Shelby Knox! I remember watching your documentary years ago and being so impressed and I’ve followed you on twitter and am so happy that you’ve continued to fight for what you think is right and you’re continuing to make the world a better place.

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