I have been trying to write this post for about a month. I sit down and many thoughts rush through my mind. Here and there I try to pounce on an idea as it falls short of many other things. I can never feel like I will do my thoughts justice if I can't get a handle on the whole concept. This entry is a snapshot of my confusion, my desire - the convoluted distractions that actually serve a stronger purpose than I am usually willing to allow. I hope through writing this entry that I will give my ideals and simultaneously burgeoning skepticism and incredulity some sense of cohesiveness. To put it another way, I'm going back to my roots of writing and will use this forum to 'stream-of-consciousness' journal the messy jumble that is my mind in the hopes of having at least a moment of clarity. Please join me on this journey as I hope at its end I will be able to articulately posit whatever it is my brain is trying to tell me. I will try to have it edited as best as possible before publishing, but I'm not promising anything.
Nearly a year ago I wrote an impassioned entry on why I made the choice to call myself a feminist. Now I sit here and ponder the conditions that convicted me to tell the world and whether or not I want to take it back. It has come to my attention that those very circumstances are what today make me reconsider my choice of slapping on a label. As I mention in the first paragraphs of "The F Word"(without the question mark), I tend to shy away from putting myself in a box - even if that means not belonging to anything or having to rethink my choices. I am not afraid to reinvent or rework myself. I came from no mold. I am pliable. A work in progress.
|Aren't we all?|
Before I went out of my way to call myself (or allow myself to be called) a feminist I was this person whose words you are reading. Right now. Hello! I have always been outspoken and viscously opposed to any type of oppression (which I imagine must seem quite ironic coming from a control freak) and even though I have spent most of my life in fear (fear of rejection...fear of abandonment) and even though that fear has led me to make some very poor choices in my life, I have always been fiercely self-reliant and it has always been my need to assert myself and my independence that has signaled the end of my abusive relationships.
Whether they were platonic friendships, friends with benefits or serious relationships, a lot of people in my life have decided they didn't like me very much when the moment came that I spoke more firmly than they wanted to hear. When I asserted myself. When they didn't like that I had my own ideas or that I felt they were being unfair to me. Sometimes because I lashed out at them, but usually because they didn't like what I had to say when I was being honest.
|Like this guy.|
That treatment and my consistent hunger for growth led me to meditate on what it means to be a woman... or a man. I was familiar with chauvinism and chivalry (peas not so far from the same pod), but never before had I seriously acknowledged the concept of sexism. I had never known a man who showed me he was interested in anything more than sex, war, sports or his own narcissistic ego, and those who seemed like they might hold more upstairs than your average meat head weren't interested in girls like me. (Very un comic-book-character-looking-like.) On a different side of the same coin, all the women I knew had low self-esteem and their priorities included men and whatever it was these men wanted. I never knew really strong women, and the ones I did know scared the hell out of me or were old friends who lived far away. So I kept company with the ones who gave me the time of day, living an inadequate life without substance.
It was when I accepted that in order for me to live fully as myself I would have to forgo the possibility that I would ever find love, that living as a prisoner to myself was not a lifestyle I could emotionally support any longer. It was when I shed the skin of the woman I was raised to be that I was able to become the woman I was meant to be. And when I became that woman (or at least started building the scaffolding for her), one of those cool, smart, interesting guys took notice and then he married me, but all those ladies who I called "friends" were still your run-of-the-mill Stepford Wife types who wanted nothing to do with me once they realized they couldn't fit me or my new lover into their mold. I was still a blossoming feminist who had the 'fever.'
I have been so uptight for so long that even when I had what most people would call happiness I found I couldn't stop thinking about Malala Yousaf Zai. I couldn't stop thinking about "legitimate rape," and "rape culture." Then it became all about those who attacked the idea of feminism itself. I got caught up in this whole Facebook misogyny thing until I realized that all we were doing was making ourselves look like a bunch of screaming loons who were only getting banned left and right for speaking out about some fifteen year old's idea of humor. That clearly went nowhere. All it did was spawn even more antifeminist rhetoric.
|Well all men know that deep down inside women just want to be raped.|
And then I found myself getting into battles about sexism and prejudice with (or have just been flat out avoided and ignored by) other feminists because I'm not radical enough. It seems like a huge portion of women who call themselves feminists are really not feminists in the literal sense of the word. They feel oppressed by male privilege and assume that men are unable to understand the female plight and therefore men's feelings are insignificant. That's the antithesis of feminism.
Many of these women have suffered at the hand of a man or were abused as children, but so was I and I have learned that it is not good practice to bully others because we grew up hard. They think they're fighting for justice, but they aren't. They're being prejudiced and sexist, perpetuating a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat. They are only acting out, not being proactive. Aren't they tired of being angry all the time?
Most of these women call themselves "radfems," but thanks to Rush Limbaugh the rest of the world has much nastier name for them - feminazis. And it is because of these women that others have a skewed perception of what true feminism is - the understanding that men and women should be treated equally, albeit from a female perspective. Given that more women than men suffer from inequality it seems appropriate to label it as feminism.
The combination of insecure men who fear women (and are terrified of feminists) and prejudiced women who hate men has really left a bad taste in my mouth. I have felt more and more that I now have to distance myself from the term. I can't tell anyone that I practice feminism without having to spend an hour trying to defend my use of the term. If I even remotely act anti-sexist around people they automatically think it's Go-Go Gadget time for Jenn's Feminist Dissertation On How The World Should Be.
It got to the point where I felt I had to explain myself to my own friends about my choice to be a feminist. And you can ask any of them - I have no problem standing up for myself, even if it means alienating others, as long as it's over something I feel is bigger than me. But the reason they are my friends is because they are open-minded, open-hearted, loving individuals. They are also strong-willed women who absolutely do not let their men walk all over them. They have equality in their relationships, they have educations, careers, hopes and dreams that nobody will ever be able to take away from them. They may not feel like protesting against sexism or animal abuse, but they don't always allow the patriarchal mold to dictate to them who they should be, either. They are living by example on their own terms. That's all anyone can do.
A few months before my wedding in June I made the decision to give up the news, blogging, or anything else that tends to upset me. I hid those on Facebook who usually only post when they are pist about something (especially those who only post about the latest child rape victim or the newest misogynistic pop star). I got tired of being bombarded by posts about horrible things. It was nothing new - another rape, another man hating on women, another politician wishing to set us back, another bully. There wasn't (and still isn't) anything being shown to me that was motivating or hopeful. They can't even balance it out with a personal anecdote about their lives or post a funny meme from some comedy page. ANYTHING to spread a smile instead of just constant rage.
It was like being slowly beaten down by a psychological sledgehammer. I couldn't concentrate and the last thing I wanted was to be full of dread and anger while I was trying to plan my wedding! I couldn't shut it all out. Then I realized, "I'm one of these women." Every day I was posting something horrible and being hateful about it. There's no balance to posting like that. There's no balance in living each day angry at everything you see because all you're showing yourself is the hideous tragedy that exists in our world. It's not about trying to stay positive through it, it's about changing your perspective and you can't do that without being willing to change your own mind so that you can see things differently - so you can see things as they are, holistically. When you learn to see differently, you think differently and when you think differently you act differently. There had to be this kind of paradigm shift in my life before I made myself any more sick than I already was.
That isn't to say I don't still see value in anger. I do; it shows me I still care. And I worry about my friends who hide from it; I fear that they're just bottling things up and we all know what happens when you do that...
Sometimes when I'm not worried or stressed about something I wonder if I'm becoming apathetic. But then somebody drowns some puppies and I break down. That's okay - that's who I am... I am emotional. (Besides, there's beauty in the break down.) But I don't have to purposely shove the horror down my throat - seek it out and feed off of it, allowing my anger to grow and seethe and then spread it all over the internet poisoning everyone else. My desire to speak out against injustice is then negated because I'm only capable of screaming and nobody wants to listen to a screaming banshee. They have more important things to do than to be made to feel like they've done something wrong when they haven't at all. And it isn't my intention to make them feel that way. I wish people could just yell and scream all they wanted and nobody would take it personally, but that's not a reality and honestly I don't like listening to it either. So I've decided to stop.
I don't know if that means I'll strip off the label completely. Perhaps I can still call myself a feminist - like if someone were to ask me... but I need to start putting up a psychic shield against the angry man-haters and the self-entitled broken-hearters. The misogynists and the "rape culture" hypers. (I'm sorry, but America has nothing on the rest of the world's "rape culture." Try living in India.) I'm sick of being associated with those who want to tear everything down with hate and judgment instead of building it up with love. (And no, your passive-aggressive back handed compliments are not an example of building up with love.) I want to be able to explain how it is I feel and what it is I do about it in a constructively calm manner without getting backlash because of semantics. I know it's a frustrating road and you know at least once a month for a few days I'm not feeling much love... but I think we have to look at these issues realistically.
1. We need to accept that sexism exists and it isn't going to go anywhere for a long time. There will always be some man chuckling and rolling his eyes when I insist on carrying the not terribly heavy box to my car. I don't have to make that the bane of my existence. I can give him my two cents and maybe he'll hear me, but not likely. At least I did my part, that's all I can do.
2. We have to live by example. Shouting at people isn't going to get them to change anything; you may as well be banging your head against a brick wall - trust me, I've tried. Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” This is much more efficient than berating people or passive aggressively shaming people for not living their lives or holding the same beliefs as you do.
3. We need to deal with acts of sexism against us in an efficient and rational manner that will not bring the wrath of some man's (or a woman's if you, dear reader, are a man) ego down upon us. There's more than one way to skin a cat and as long as love is always the motivator, there is no wrong way to think or do things. The more rage we show them, the more they are going to slander and humiliate us. Use the sexism as a teachable moment, rather than a chance to burn a bridge.
4. Try spending a few minutes each day searching for victory articles. Victory articles are articles that tell us how sexism was averted, crushed or understood for one person. Victory articles show us when justice is on the side of the just. I don't mean to turn a blind eye to the tragedy - without tragedy we couldn't possibly ever fully experience joy - just don't dwell on it. Don't completely immerse yourself in it forgetting everything else. We need to be alert and informed, but also need time to embrace the lighter side of things. We need balance. At our very cores - physically and mentally. Balance is the key to everything.
5. There will always be naysayers and people with preconceived notions about everything (it seems), so there will always be someone who won't have the ability to understand. Once someone has decided for themselves it is very difficult to change their mind. There are people who were in my life who swear up and down (and will do so until the grave) that I am a full-blown lesbian and that I just don't know it. That's simply not true. They had pre-conceived notions about me and no matter what I said, or how they saw me live my life what they thought was their reality. We can't let ourselves get overly frustrated by the blind. They will never see and we can't hold ourselves responsible for making them. They make their own beds - we do not have to lay in them.
6. It is not fair to assume that because not very many men come forward about rape or abuse very few men are raped. That's not true. Men are also victims of domestic violence. Men need help, whether they want to admit it or not and we should all be compassionate and understanding about their issues if we expect them to show us the same courtesy. Not all men are babies when they're sick. Not all men only think about sex. Not all men only care about their friends, cars and sports. So let us stop punishing every single man for all the fucked up shit that a few guys in our past did.
There are so many people arguing about so many different things with a lot of different ideas about what feminism should or shouldn't be that it's impossible for me to really feel comfortable claiming a part of any group. I have my own ideals, too, that don't always match up with those I admire and sometimes that makes me second-guess myself. That's just silly. We are all different and there is no original thought anyways, so what difference does it make? I don't feel that I have to belong to any special group to feel special - I'm usually seen as some sort of poseur outsider anyways and who wants to deal with that pretentious bullshit? Not me.
So for the time being I'm not going to go out of my way to call myself a feminist, but I won't deny it either if asked point blanc. If one needed nouns to describe me quickly I would say that I am an equalist, a humanist AND a pantheist, I rarely see black and white as I live mostly in the grey middle-of-the-road. Quite simply, I am Jennifer Cooper and I believe in equality, truth and justice.