Holding it All Together: Duality and Feminism // Anna Vandevender

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I watched a TED talk given by Ash Beckham a few months ago and her message has stuck with me and has served as food for thought. I invite you to take a peek at her video and consider what roles duality plays in your life and identity, not only as a woman and feminist, but in other roles that you may play: Ash Beckham on Duality https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYhgy5ouYLM

One of the reactions I had while watching Ash’s TED talk was “Being my true self isn’t just for the weekends.” In reality, this is something that has become increasingly evident to me, particularly in the conversations I have with others and with myself as difficult topics arise in daily life, including such mundane considerations as “Should I share this video/article that I think is amazing on my own Facebook feed? Will my Facebook peers get the premise of its message or will I have to do damage control for the next week?” For me, a period of my life has been characterized by putting on the metaphorical superhero cape when I want to take a stance on something that has polarized my peer group; in other words, my advocate-activist identity has been more of an alter-ego than an enduring presence in my daily life and actions. There have been times in my life when the mere thought of speaking up and taking a stance on something that matters to me has triggered intense bouts of stress-sweating (which is much more pungent and disgusting than exercise sweat, in my opinion). In the past, these types of situations have evoked a type of black-and-white thinking that created a sense of needing to pick between who I was in one area of my life and who I was in a another domain of my life. More simply, I felt that I had to sacrifice a part of myself in order to keep things peaceful and simple. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Listening to Ash talk about her own dualities, it dawned on me that this is the very same conflict I have been facing for the past several years and had been trying to navigate without creating a pros and cons list each time I was faced with a polarizing situation. I think ultimately this is a conflict that each of us who approaches a topic with passion will have to resolve, perhaps more than once across life. But the perspective I have now on how to work through the feelings of confusion and tension that come up in challenging situations is much different than I previously held- I no longer feel like I have to choose between different aspects of myself. There is no such thing as “keeping it simple” when it comes to who we are- we are all mixtures of cultural contradictions. I will always and unapologetically be a moderately liberal, Appalachian wife, sister, and daughter, in all of its nuances and contradictions and I learning to live into these identities, rather than choose one or the other. As I share pieces of myself with others, at times I catch myself thinking “this won’t make sense to them” and maybe it doesn’t, but I think the beauty in being able to live in duality, to hold conflicting pieces of your identity in unison speaks to the history that each of us has lived to tell about.

For me, duality represents the ability to be authentic- to embrace my culture, my past, and my present, and to shape all of those aspects of myself into a future that I want to be a part of and share with others. As Ash is summarizing her argument in the video, she makes a comment “if we can hold two things, then we can hold four...” and as I hear her enthusiasm about moving from a place of duality to what one might call plurality, I find myself smiling and feeling hopeful. What if each of us could spend a little more time getting to know the parts of ourselves that scare us with their energy, their contradictory nature, their ambiguity? And even further, what if we got better at sharing them with others so that we all are moving toward a greater degree of duality and perhaps plurality across our currently unruly and fearful country? What if an aspect of the revitalization that many of us find ourselves longing for within our borders is much quieter than we thought, what if it could start with more conversations about the gray areas of ourselves, rather than trying to force ourselves and others to fit in one category, with little consideration for the fact that maybe there is room for each of us to fit in both? For me, examining my dualities and sharing them with those around me is part of the glue that holds me together, that keeps me true to myself. If nothing else, as I post my sweat-provoking Facebook finds, my hope is that maybe just one more person will notice their own gray areas and begin sharing them too. 

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