"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Monday, June 30, 2014

Speak Now #34: How to do Feminism.

Now Playing: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman (city lights lay out before us and your arm felt nice wrapped around my shoulder and I had a feeling that I belonged, and I had a feeling I could be someone).

I feel like many feminists are forgetting who the real enemy is.

Feminism is a sisterhood, and if you have a sister like I do, you know that it's not always smooth sailing. You're different people with different ideas and different ways of doing things and you're never going to agree with each other 100%, 100% of the time. But beneath all the petty disagreements is a belief in some higher ideal.

Feminism is a big, messy, complicated sisterhood involving thousands of sisters around the world and across the centuries. There are going to be fights. There are going to be disputes and debates and disagreements; I'd argue, nerdy academic that I am, that this is healthy, to make sure that we are always keeping our arguments relevant and in perspective.

But we have to remember who the real enemy is.

Tearing down other feminists is not helpful. Proving that you are a better woman and a better feminist is not useful. Making other feminists too afraid to speak out and voice their opinions because they're terrified they'll unleash an onslaught of abuse and criticism is not solving anything. Cutting people down and tearing them apart for a tiny slip, a minute error, or a different sense of the ever-increasing terminology surrounding feminism/poc activism/queer rights movement is not facing the real problems facing women and feminists and people in general.

Of course, be critical of feminism and other feminists. Call out racism, slut shaming, queerphobia, and the like. It's your job as a feminist and you should take it seriously. But there is a difference between sensitively and civilly talking to a fellow feminist, a fellow human being, to discuss any problematic issues, and yelling insults at them on public forums. I'm not saying that feminists are required to be polite or are even required to entertain toxic attitudes, but I'm talking about fellow feminists; feminists who might be new and not quite steady in their beliefs, or sincerely believe in crushing the patriarchy but have, like the rest of us, subconsciously absorbed the ideals and attitudes of our society, or just didn't realize that something that might seem innocuous is actually offensive. This isn't saying that feminists shouldn't call out problematic issues; in fact, I don't think we do it enough. But we have to recognise that a different perspective or a little naive ignorance is not the same as being a fedorable neckbeard serial rapist woman-killer.

My Guide to Being a Feminist: 

- Recognize that you are not an authority over All Other Feminists, and your position is not automatically 'better' than anyone else's. Feminism is about demanding that women be imagined complexly; you can start by doing that yourself.

- The majority of feminists, particularly social media feminists, are very young, or started getting involved in the feminist community very young. Feminist or not, all teenagers say stupid things. It is also not reasonable to drudge up some out of context remark someone said when they were basically in diapers and hold it against them for the Rest of Eternity.

- We all have our biases and prejudices; we have all grown up in a sexist, heteronormative, queer-phobic patriarchy and we have all mindlessly absorbed some of those attitudes. Nobody is a perfect embodiment of feminism, and that includes you.

- The correct response to a problematic text or piece of popular culture (I'm talking Game of Thrones problematic, not like...Elliot Rogers' manifesto problematic) is to say 'the portrayal of women/poc/queer folk is interesting/progressive in x and y example but is problematic in this way and that way because reasons'. Not ERMAGERD KILL IT WITH FIRE.

- Be sensitive to the fact that many feminists have mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. No matter what they've said it is cruel and dehumanizing to deliberately trigger that by being excessively aggressive in your response to problematic discourse. You might think you're being smart and sassy, but you're just being an asshole.


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