Hello- whoever you are. You may know me, or of me, or maybe, you don’t know who I am at all. Whichever way it may be, thank you for finding this, and for taking the time to read my story.
My name is Kathryn McConnell. I have worked my entire life, trying to figure out ways to create meaningful change and advancement within my communities. YouGoGirl had been stewing in my brain for over four years, before I decided to put pen to paper in 2017, and make it my new reality. This stemmed mainly from a lack of confidence on my behalf, and also the lack of support I thought I would receive- this obviously changed over time. From 2014-2017, many events took place that reiterated the need I felt for this organization to exist. These events were soul-crushing, depressing, life-ruining, yet empowering, and confidence-instilling all in one. (I also would like to say, this is truly the first time I have ever announced these issues in public, so keep that in mind while reading).
*TRIGGER WARNING: Discussions of rape, harassment, and eating disorders*
Most teenagers get to have the enthralling experience of sneaking off to some party, acting a little crazy, and then returning home with no onset harm or damage. But, this experience was taken from me- abruptly, and violently. On that rainy night in February of 2015, I attended a party where I was drugged, raped, and left naked in a room, covered in my own blood. I returned home, and told no one until December of 2018, when I began to slowly recount the experience to my parents and friends. Because of this event, I spent four years of my life blaming and punishing myself. I developed extremely severe PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety- which in turn led to poor performance in school, irrational decisions, a battle with anorexia nervosa, and absolutely no faith in the abilities I possessed. It wasn’t truly until the summer after my junior year of high school, that I started to rebuild myself.
In August of 2017, I was a youth representative for the Women’s March on Washington, and had just gotten a job working on the Hillary for America Campaign in Oklahoma. I was consistently working on social media, carrying promotional merchandise, and participating in events. This was my right, and one I was not imposing on others, or shaming them into accepting or believing. However, there was a group of young men who disliked my messages, and my efforts. They created a twitter account with the sole purpose of harassing me and my friends, shaming us, silencing, and a belittling us. Threatening notes were left on my car, in my locker, on my front porch. I was called terribly inappropriate names at school, and even in front of the entire student body at an assembly. A brick was thrown through the back window of my car, I was chased down in a parking lot, and my school’s administration did absolutely nothing. Nothing. I was told that I was “overreacting”, “lying”, and “making a big deal out of nothing”, by the men in charge of my high school. This in turn, lead to my friends starting to believe I was lying, and overreacting, and I lost support within my community, for speaking out about my safety. There are still some out there who think I am a “liar”, and a “bitch”, but at this organization, WE BELIEVE WOMEN.
In the summer after my junior year, I attended Oklahoma Girls State. Where my life changed forever, and for the better. When I say that this experience saved my life- I am absolutely not kidding. I met the most remarkable, supportive young women I had ever met. They listened to what I had to say, supported me, and believed in me. While at Girls State, I was elected as one of two representatives to attend Girls Nation in Washington D.C., along with one of the most important women in my life, Chloe Shames. Here, I learned the power of my voice, the abilities I possessed, and the faith others had in me. However, while at Girls Nation, the need for YouGoGirl was also reiterated once again. On one of the days of the week-long experience, time was reserved to visit Capitol Hill, to meet with our representatives, ask questions, and discuss challenges we were facing in our states. Every single Senator and Congressman that Chloe and I met with disregarded us, made sexist or racist comments, or ignored us completely. Senator Jim Inhoffe asked Chloe if she was a “flaming liberal”, mainly because of her intelligent questions and racial ambiguity. He also refused to ask us the same questions he asked our male counterparts, and refused to acknowledge our answers. Congressman MarkWayne Mullins completely ignored us, and talked to the boys in our group the entire time. Congressman Steve Russell refused to talk about education in Oklahoma, and instead lectured us about the “lies” of climate science, took up all the time with his own opinions, and commented on the way I looked anytime I tried to speak. Senator Lankford’s staff compared democrats, feminists, and homeless, disadvantaged individuals, to “trash for the republican party to pick up.”
When I met Melissa VanSant, I knew that I would be changed for the better. Her passion for others, for progress, and for meaningful work has been one of the most defining factors of success for this organization. I never suspected to find someone as committed to advocacy as I was, and I definitely never suspected that I would find my absolute best friend in the world from embarking on this experience. To Mill- I’ll always be grateful for the love you have shown me, and for the dedication and support you have always provided this organization.
All of these were sources of my inspiration for starting this organization. The lack of respect that those in charge in our state have for young individuals, and specifically, women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community, creates a need for self-education, and self-empowerment. YouGoGirl was created to give every girl a voice, if she found herself in a situation like mine- with no one to turn to, and no one to believe her. To create a community for young individuals to share their stories, their beliefs, and their experiences, growing up in our disadvantaged state. To serve as a center for young women to get involved in service, leadership, politics, and advocacy without judgement, and without fear. This organization is one that I needed growing up, and now, it is serving other young women and individuals as they grow, and understand their power. Empowering others is the greatest work I will ever do, and this serves as my beacon of light for others experiencing violence, emotional turmoil, discrimination, and self-deprecation. Together, we are working to empower the next generation of leaders, activists, and thinkers. We are, truly, Oklahomans empowering each other.
Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.
YouGoGirl is an online publication dedicated to promoting female empowerment, political actuality, educational autonomy, and exploration of personal and social identity. Through this work, we strive to give every young girl and individual an open, and collaborative voice in a safe environment, free of judgement and harm.