“Welcome to Outer Space,” are words Alicia whispers into the dark for visitors at the Flint Planetarium. The rounded room is filled with stars, planets, mystery, and unchartered territories to humankind. Outer Space fills our minds with wild imaginative thoughts of the unknown. So much of the universe, this planet, and our own lives are unknown. Alicia Whitcome is a woman filled with bravery in the face of change and the ability to take the next step for her and for all of womankind. This month’s featured Kathy is a guide to the universe at the planetarium, a barista, and currently a student navigating the waters of getting her master’s degree in Historic Preservation from Eastern University.
Alicia’s presence is striking and beautiful. She’s filled with the energy of women from centuries before her. She grew up loving and watching classic films with her grandfather. Some of her favorites were "Gone With the Wind" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." She may even have a Scarlett O’Hara doll lying around somewhere at home. She is enthralled by literature and reads on the history of lighthouses, fictional series such as, His Dark Materials, and even Jurassic Park back in the day. Throughout her life she has undergone quite a few drastic changes. With the New Year arriving there is a building pressure and pull from universe to change. We feel the urge to change ourselves, our surroundings, and even our plans. The changes can make us fearful, shy, and overwhelmed. Alicia’s story and her words inspire courage to women who recognize the need for change and maybe are a bit afraid to take the next step.
I asked her if she could elicit any advice to young women, what would it be, and she said, “Don’t smile.”
As women we are often faced with moments that have people who would seek to take away our power. In light of empowering women, Alicia and I talked about some of the obstacles women face. “You know how women are told to just smile and not rock the boat,” she said. I asked her if she could elicit any advice to young women, what would it be, and she said, “Don’t smile.” There are often so many people who feel entitled to comment on the lipstick we wear, the cut of our shirt, and the way we do our hair. During my interview with her, she described a recent experience she had at work, “I have this amazing green lipstick, and I wore it to work. This guy comes in and I greeted him, 'Hi, how are you today?' and to me he says, ‘Green, really?’ YES. It’s on my face. He is the customer, and he has the power. I can’t say, ‘Yeah Mother Fucker. Coffee?! really?!’ What makes you think you have the right to say something like that to a woman? It’s not like he was saying, ‘Oh wow! I have never seen a lipstick color like that' or 'that’s an interesting green!’ Why do you care what is on my face?” There are societal norms facing many women today. We fight for our right to vote, to be heard, and then some will choose to call us “Femi-Nazi’s”; a term that has no place in modern society, but is often used to describe a woman who has feminist ideology. However, language like this towards woman continues to wedge its way and empower the wrong groups of people.
...What does that mean? Is it because I am good at what I do, therefore I do it like a man?
The fight for our equality continues and on January 19, 2019 women will march through different cities in America to show that we have never stopped fighting. Women fight against unequal rights, marginalization, and binary comparisons of male vs female. It is exhausting to hear the common expression, “You do (fill in the blank) like a man.” During cosmetology school, a friend commented to Alicia, “You cut hair like a man.” She expressed during her interview, “It was given as a compliment, and I totally took it as one at the time. I think about it often now and wonder ‘what does that mean?’ Is it because I am good at what I do, therefore I do it like a man? Is it because I am not a flake? I’m not your typical tart? Because I am determined, and I don’t half ass anything, that makes me do something like man?” These gender roles create inequality for men and women.
Alicia’s passions for equality are filled with truth. She stated, “I am so sick of seeing memes that say, women want equal pay, but not equal work. What makes you think that I can’t work? What makes you think I am afraid of working, and working hard? No. You know what I want? That if I have the same qualifications as a man for a job, and we both get that job, that we both make the same fucking money. I want my medical insurance to cover my tubes being tied, my hysterectomy, anything like that! Because guess what? Insurance covers a vasectomy 99% of the time. Or I want at the very least insurance to cover birth control. You know what birth control is? Medicine. Insurance covers Viagra! That makes sense.” During our interview, I asked who has deeply inspired her in life. Who has made an impact on her passions and her fiery soul? She answered...Frida. Frida Kahlo.
Frida’s unconventionalism, strength, and unique expression of art has made her become somewhat of an icon for feminism recently. There are so many similarities between Alicia and Frida, and I love the way she describes her draw to Frida, “I know recently she has become a huge icon, but reading about her life...She was such an emotional person. She was such an unconventional person from the start, that there was really no other route for her. Personality wise, she really utilized what was happening in her life, to kind of form her life. I feel like in a lot of ways we are the same person emotionally. Actually, it‘s a little heart breaking. She felt with everything no matter what it was, that’s really hard. That’s really taxing, but that's what she did. And she really gave no fucks what people thought of her. I love that.” When you know Alicia, the first thing you realize is she gives zero fucks for what people think of her, but she also loves those around her fiercely.
Change doesn't come your way, you have to go look for it.
Frida made early steps for women with her radicalism and deep desire for change. Some may not be aware, but Frida would often lie about her birthday so that she would be considered a child of the revolution in Mexico. She pushed boundaries and pursued change. Alicia has also pursued change in her own life. Alicia, at 20 years old, moved to Florida and after five years of challenging experiences, she moved back to Ypsilanti, MI. She was willing to recognize in her own life moments that needed growth, mental clarity, and self respect. During a time of serious depression Alicia found her job at the Planetarium and felt it would be an avenue of something new and refreshing. That same year she also started dancing ballet again, and started performing for a local dance company. After moving back to Michigan, Alicia said, “I keep surprising myself and going out on these weird limbs. When I moved back I got a job at a tattoo shop in Ypsi, and that’s actually how I met Jeremy [her husband]. Before that I hated everything. I was in a really bad spot mentally. Everything hurt… emotionally, physically. Everything was so bad. Change doesn't come your way, you have to go look for it. So I thought, fuck it, I am going to try and find another job.” The burn for change is what eventually led Alicia to find a job at the planetarium in Flint.
But I realized this is my choice. This is what I want to do. I think that’s what a lot of people need, to change their focus.
Alicia has since undergone other life changes, moves, and experiences. Alicia is a dancer, a wife, a Mother of Dragons [ to her two dogs Jack and Rocket], and a historian. She reminds us as women not to be afraid of change. She reminds us that change is actually necessary for our mental health. So much of our life is made up of chasing happiness, but what’s more important is realizing what you want. Alicia said in regards to her life now, “I realized this IS what I want. I love the people I work with. I get to be home with my dogs and be home with Jeremy. I have time now. That’s what’s important to me...Time. It's about shifting your focus. I was depressed because according to society I was failing on all of these levels. I felt like a loser... But I realized this is my choice. This is what I want to do. I think that’s what a lot of people need, to change their focus. You have to realize either I am happy or I am not.” Are you able to recognize what you are focused on? Are you able to free yourself from shame and guilt, and step boldly into ‘Outer Space’ and find what makes you happy? Are you able to really pursue your happiness? Because in the end, just like Alicia said, “All I know is I just want to be happy. It’s all I have ever wanted, to be happy.”
Written By and Photographs by: Jenifer Veloso