Speaking with Kiran Gandhi helped me graduate from college

She made headlines last year after running the Boston Marathon while free bleeding

A little under a year ago my Facebook feed was livid over a woman who had free-bled while running the Boston Marathon months earlier. Soon a wave of counter editorials surfaced, berating the people who had called her “disgusting” and “unhygienic,” and holding this runner up as a feminist activist. While this was all going on, I was completed disconnected from the whole conversation. I was in the process of preparing for an upper-division Biology final at UC Berkeley, moving into a new apartment, and trying to start my undergraduate thesis. My thesis was an investigation into the Riot Grrrl scene, a feminist punk rock movement, and its lasting impact on women today. Though writing a thesis something I wanted to do, and on a topic I was passionate about, I was floundering.

A semester later, I was still as stuck on my thesis. I had spent months pouring over Anthropological texts: Georgina Born, Angela McRobbie, and Susan McClary were starting to feel like my closest friends as I wrote annotations on their writings, theorizing how they could become relevant for my project. But I was having a difficult time getting passed the research aspect of my project, to actually interviewing participants and writing it. I was intimidated. Intimidated by the fact that I was surrounded by other undergraduates who seemed to know exactly what they were doing, intimidated by the thought of interviewing women who I idolized for making the art and music of this movement, and intimidated by the thought of writing a 50-100 page paper that anyone would actually want to read. School was not fun…

Walking to class one day I saw a poster advertising Kiran Gandhi coming to campus to speak about being a woman in the music industry. “MIA’s Dummer” and “Free-Bleeding During The Boston Marathon” were in all caps and scrawled across the top of the flyer. I made a mental note of the date and time. When the day came I almost didn’t go. I was tired, and stressed, and I definitely needed to use the time to work on my thesis. Still, I grabbed a friend and went anyways.

The crowd was small, but not bad for a Friday night. When Kiran stepped in front of us I was instantly mesmerized by her presence. She spoke about how hectic her life had been while touring with MIA and simultaneously working towards her MBA at Harvard, how trying it was to be a woman in the music industry, and the period that ended up framing her public identity. She encouraged us to make lists of our passions and talents, and find ways to use them to inspire positive changes in the world. She was extremely articulate while taking questions from the audience and saying she is humble is an understatement. She reminded the audience that she had things to learn from us.

After the interview was over, she invited everyone to jam with her. She had her drum set assembled and handed out pens and anything she could find from her purse that could make noise. Anyone who was empty handed was encouraged to sing, and then the music began. It was loud, it was chaotic, it was awesome to see a professional musician encourage a room of strangers to relax and make music (noise) with each other. Afterwards I stayed to thank Kiran for such an awesome evening.

When I introduced myself to her and mentioned the project she seemed stoked about it. When I asked her if I could interview her and get her perspective on the music industry and feminism today, she gave me her email address and promised to answer my questions.

She had really inspired me to stop worrying what other people think, and just finally, really work on my thesis. I sent her an email that night with my questions, and she responded quickly with voice recordings of her answers. Her insight on the importance of breaking the glass ceiling in the music industry, and the relationship between capitalism and feminism was brilliant. After I thanked her, she introduced me to other women who had been directly involved in the Riot Grrrl scene.

I’ve since finished the thesis and graduated. But what ultimately got me through was the help and encouragement from women like Kiran Gandhi. While she is extremely talented and intelligent, she still took the time to speak with an undergraduate working on her first research project. It is something I will not forget, and has inspired me to carry the same attitude.