24 Nov There’s Something You Should Know about Feminists: We’re Human Too
Writers, we get tired too sometimes. So often we spend our time writing other people’s stories down instead of telling our own. I’ve been tired lately – mostly of listening to people tell the same stories again and again, but also of trying to speak to those who do not wish to listen. Honestly it’s exhausting. I’ve written dozens of intros to articles that will never leave my dashboard. I’ve written letters to people who will never read them. I have written poems for people who didn’t deserve them.
But you know what? For once I just want to write something for me.
I want to write that being a writer is lonely and isolating because it is; and no matter how many people my message reaches, the audience will never know what came before the words. They’ll never know the real lived experiences that crafted these messages and gave birth to the paragraphs that you skim over quickly. I am a feminist but I am also a writer. I’m a feminist, a writer, a music lover, a fan of the colour turquoise, an animal lover and I am afraid of heights. Like any person, I am a human but because I am a feminist, this is often forgotten. Some of you don’t know anything more about me other than I’m a feminist – from that, you fill in the blanks yourself, often incorrectly.
Today, I want to write that being a feminist is painful, gruelling and soul-destroying work.
Growing up my mother always told me that “I have the gift of the gab”. I didn’t understand it then but now I know what she means by that – according to Google – I have the natural ability to talk in a way that people find entertaining or persuasive.
Over time I have learned that this “gift” comes with a price tag. As a womxn, my “gift” is often cursing. Indeed, it is damning to have a loud voice in a world where you are meant to remain silent (and I recognise my privilege to be afforded a voice despite the oppression I have suffered and do suffer as a womxn). I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t even matter what I say half the time; the sheer fact that I am saying it – and people are hearing it – usually places me in jeopardy.
I remember in preschool I had a nasty teacher called Mrs. Price who couldn’t get me to stop talking or do what she wanted. Then one day we were standing in a circle for some kind of classroom activity. Everyone was making a noise, especially the boys, but Mrs. Price kept singling me out and scolding me. Eventually she took me to the side of the class and meticulously placed sellotape over my mouth to try and “teach me a lesson”. I was instructed not to take it off until lunch time.
Throughout my life people have tried – in vain – to silence me. These days, it’s not much different. If you think about it, feminists are already guilty by association. Many people think that only womxn can be feminists. In fact, I’ve come to realise through my interactions with people in public spaces that the definition of feminism has somehow gotten lost amongst the thick clouds of condemning stereotypes which some actually believe to be fact.
You’ve heard about the angry feminist, the raging feminist, the feminists who can’t take a joke, and of course the feminists who have never and could never change anything in this world (that’s why no-one ever asks them to replace a light bulb. Ha ha ha). But what about the feminist who was human?
Even as I write these words I know how wasted my message will be on those who need to hear it the most. To them, feminists are just causing trouble. We’re conspiring and bothersome and care only for ourselves. Our main intention is to rattle all things good and right in the world and to rub honourable men the wrong way because, you know, men are genuinely honourable even if they make mistakes they cannot help. Or something to that effect.
I’ve been a feminist for a little while now. In many ways I’ve always been a feminist – perhaps not an intersectional one – because feminism is merely the radical belief that womxn shouldn’t be treated like sh*t. Okay, that’s not how the dictionary defines it but it’s important to remember that the definition of feminism varies according to who you ask. If you asked me, I’d tell you that I believe the only kind of feminism which can benefit the world is intersectional feminism because it considers all existing oppressive systems and views them as intersecting and overlapping. As Audre Lorde said, “there is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”.
Despite all this, I am repeatedly told that because I am a feminist, I am being harmful to men and society in general. Somehow a movement about empowering womxn is still viewed as something entirely about men and that’s problematic, isn’t it? Every single day I encounter someone who is uncomfortable about feminism. I also encounter hordes of individuals who are not uncomfortable about discrimination against womxn, queers, people of colour, trans people, disabled people and so forth. It seems that what’s most uncomfortable is merely acknowledging that these forms of discrimination exist which for me is puzzling considering they are so glaringly obvious.
But I shared some of their beliefs once – the feminist despisers. I used to think that I was “more like a guy” because “girls are so full of drama” and “bitchy” and “competitive”. Back then I believed that womxn were the source of my pain, or that they had caused me the most suffering in life. After all, blaming womxn in any scenario has become such an automatic response. We as womxn do it to ourselves all the time; and it’s because of internalised misogyny not because womxn are awful.
On the one hand, society likes to glamourise the idea of womxn (as mothers, virgins and peace-keepers); there are some “liberal” circles that even worship the idea of “the divine feminine”. But these are just ideas and consequently, expectations. The more I realise that, the more I don’t feel obliged to challenge myself to meet them. That’s why I decided to become a feminist. I decided when I realised, for example, that actually I didn’t hate my body because I wanted to be thin so I could be pretty like other girls; I hated it because I was constantly being valued according to my exterior and being punished for not striving to attain an appearance deemed acceptable by the patriarchy which I didn’t necessarily want in the first place.
Just this week I called out a brand on social media for promoting a white Western beauty standard (that is: thin, tall, white, feminine, able-bodied) only to be shunned for it by people who have never met me. A white, able-bodied, cisgender man told me that I’ll never be able to build a proper career because I am so aggressive and one-sided. He said all these things because, despite his attempts to silence me, he was unsuccessful. But he’s not the only man who has made assumptions about me upon learning that I am a feminist. I am routinely told how to behave, what to say and not to say by men in the real life and on the internet.
Social media is a powerful and dangerous tool because it’s giving people, who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to sound their voices, a chance. When you are someone who has a reach – which I do – what you say has increasing amount of impact because more and more people are seeing it and engaging with it.
Today I asked myself “why?” Why did I choose this path? My life would be a lot easier if I could just shut up and bite my tongue; if I didn’t see the oppression I see or feel the need to change it. [NOTE: I’m not looking for pity points or gold stars. I’m not a special snowflake. There are many activists out there who put themselves on the line in ways I never have.] I was thinking about all of this after another strange man on Facebook called me a whale because he was was upset about an event being hosted where cisgender heterosexual men weren’t invited on principle. I was told that I’m “fulfilling the feminist stereotype” and that “not all men are bad”. And just like that, it was a conversation about men again because why shouldn’t men be allowed entry into an event? Why shouldn’t men be free of guilt by association unlike feminists? Why should men not have complete freedom to dominate every space, to be heard and acknowledged even if it causes discomfort? But most of all, why should men – all men – be held accountable for the actions of “some men”?
I think it’s safe to say that all womxn are held accountable for the actions of “some womxn”. In fact, most times we’re guilty for things we haven’t even done. For example, we’re guilty when we get raped because we were drunk or wearing something slutty so we asked for it. We’re guilty if we get an abortion because we should have been more careful and it’s our responsibility to not get knocked up. Womxn-hating is something so inherent in our society that the (supposedly) free world would elect a man who is an accused misogynist, rapist, homophobe, transphobe, pro-lifer and rape culture apologist in the year 2016 which is, historically speaking, arguably more progressive than ever before.
Hyper masculinity and male entitlement go hand in hand. But I ask this not as a feminist or as a womxn, but as a human: men, will you please respect my existence as you would respect another man’s? It’s deeply unfortunate that we still live in a world where womxn are trying to achieve “equal rights to men”. It sucks that men are always the benchmark, the default, the norm – while womxn are othered and side-lined for convenience.
Before you jump at the throat of a feminist, ask yourself why you’re not by our side? Could it be that your understanding of feminism is rooted in womxn-hating? Could it be that you let misogynists define what feminism is? I think so.
Feminists, we’re people too and we’re tired of being dehumanised. Just something to remember.