The Feminist Plateau
I have experienced a plateau, a feminist plateau. In the past year, I have relocated to a new region with a different culture and set of ideas, and the absence of progressive thinking has worn me down. I try to reclaim my feminist roots by reading blogs and engaging others in dialogue about feminism. Sure, I’ve found a few women and men who share these interests, and that has truly been the silver lining in my experience thus far. When I talk to friends who live in other regions of the U.S., they encourage me to use my voice, while I hear, “The old you would have challenged that.” One of my friends, who I met at a job several years ago, reminisces with me and will say, “You were the only one who got called into the office so many times without ever getting written up.” With my intolerance for injustice and passion for speaking up, I could argue my way out of a maze; except, I can’t now. At work and even out and about in my hometown, there were always people there to back me up. Feminism has never been a solo act.
The thing is: there is no clear line telling you when the battle is futile and when the iron is hot and ready to strike. I feel exhausted, powerless, and traumatized by hearing someone assert that “women have penis envy.” I envy the privilege of getting to say something like that and have it go unchallenged. Indeed, the experience of self-identifying and participating in feminist activism has a cost in terms of discrimination, alienation from people who feel threatened by feminism, and looking like a “bitch” or “being emotional” because the experience of sexism is nauseating. So, how do we keep this going? A month ago, when I asked myself that question, a blog entry on the Rising Tide appeared called “Feminism Isn’t Working and I Give Up.” If you have not read it, the blog is linked below. In the piece, the author discusses the overwhelming flood of local and global injustice against women while describing feelings of burn-out from what feels like an uphill battle toward equality. The message turns around, though, reminding the readers of the advances women have made (i.e., more women in Congress than ever!).
And that’s where the ray of light streams in, and I look to reminders that there are still outlets and progress being made. From pep talks with old friends and mentors to going on a hike, I realize the liberating feeling of empowerment through connection in the world with love toward others and appreciation of natural surroundings. The world is bigger than my own frustration in this place, at this moment. For example, Malala Yousafzai was nominated recently for the Nobel Peace Prize and was the youngest person ever nominated. The field is rich with examples of women who persevered in the face of extreme adversity. Though Malala may have felt fear for the work she was doing, her deep and intuitive sense of knowing that education is a right for girls everywhere was far stronger. Even after being shot in the head, she came back stronger and with an even more powerful voice. There’s a story within her story for every woman who has felt beaten down and oppressed when working toward social change – to be resilient and use that experience to inform our cause. There are lots of concrete ways to foster resiliency and to empower, and here are just a few to get started:
1. SARK’s (2010) lost list: make a list of things or relationships you have lost (i.e., the friendship of someone who did not support you) and then write about how that loss has transformed you in a positive way.
2. Go outside: go sit, ride, walk, or whatever in the REAL world.
3. Call a feminist. You know you really just need someone to validate the shit out of you. And you deserve it.
4. Meditate, journal, or tell someone about why feminism is part of your identity.
5. Help a woman out. There are levels of intervention from policy work to sticking up for a colleague.
So, when things get tough, and I realize I’m not with people who value and respect feminism, I remind myself of the Ted talk on ‘willful blindness’ (see below) and write about how happy I am to be the sole owner of a vagina. Patriarchy might not be dead, but feminism has never been more alive.
SARK. (2010). Glad no matter what: Transforming loss and change into gift and opportunity.
Novato, CA: New World Library
Written by Teresa Young