Saturday, March 16, 2013

Feminism Isn't Cool

Feminism isn't cool; it's necessary. Although it can feel comforting and perhaps empowering to support and be supported by women: I would rather we not have to rally around each other for the purpose of fending off patriarchy. Feminism isn't fun: in fact at some point women often experience feminist burnout. It's hard not to, when we are faced with not only patriarchal systems but sexist comments about a woman's effort to rebel against them.What's the alternative? Shutting up. If a person you come across is "sick of hearing it, that can most likely be attributed to the fact that speaking about fairness puts a big wrench in the status-quo that has worked so well for men. In other words, shutting up is often preferred. Unfortunate for sexists everywhere; shutting up is not an option.

Jessica Valenti speaks to this in her article Battling Feminist Burnout: 

Every day, there’s another piece of bad news. A lawmaker says something egregious about rape. A sexist law passes. A movie or television show or viral video promotes an awful stereotype about women and sexuality. That doesn’t even get into the outrageous number of women across the United States who will be sexually assaulted or had violence done to them by their partners. (And that’s just in this country!) On top of dealing with the sheer awfulness of the way misogyny operates in the world, those of us who do feminist work—from writers and nonprofit workers to everyday activists—have to deal with the people around us insisting that we’re imagining the whole thing! 

Her advice to us is to:

Spend energy wisely. You already know that your activist energy—be it physical, mental or emotional—is a precious resource. Don’t waste it by talking to brick walls. This will frustrate you and change nothing. Consider doing your work in terms of specific goals. Maybe you can’t take down the patriarchy, but you can change a school policy on sexual assault, get a local pharmacy to carry Plan B, or help a friend. Feminist work is a lot more manageable in small pieces—it allows you “wins” that energize, and chips away at broader structures.

Create something. A blog, a tweet, a zine, a T-shirt, a march—have something tangible to scrawl your energy across.

Sometimes being a feminist makes me feel like I am Alice in Wonderland, who purposefully drinks the "Drink Me" bottle and then quickly shrinks down to a miniscule size. It hurts when men don't see or dismiss the actuality of patriarchy and it also hurts when some women jump aboard the, feminists are uppity, bandwagon. I don't like feeling punished for simply being female.

I think most of us have heard the stereotype/lie that feminists "hate men". Feminists know that this is untrue -- but for those who believe this to be a truism -- I wonder if they ever think past that statement. If they truly believe that feminists hate men, do they ever ask themselves as to why? Do they have any idea as to why women might be so angry?

Speaking for me; I am a feminist in part, because I love men. I want men to be kind, fair and empathetic to themselves and other men. I want men to teach their sons that equality starts with them. I want men to squash the idea that anger is the only appropriate emotion a man can experience and be rewarded for.

I also want men to create a safe space for the women they love, be she; girlfriend, wife, mother, sister, daughter, niece; stranger at the gym.

In Hugo Schwyzer's article, Hardwired to Disappoint? The Crushingly Low Expectation, he tells us that:

We make public life less risky for women not just by encouraging them to take self-defense classes, but by demanding that men respect women's bodies on the street, in the subway, and at work. We make romantic life less risky for women by challenging men to show the fuck up. 

Schwyzer goes on to speak of physical harms that threatens a woman's sense of self.

The myth that excuses rape is the same myth that makes men into such apparently risky propositions as boyfriends or husbands. As long as we believe that men are too weak to control their sexual impulses, we'll force the burden for preventing rape entirely onto women; as long as we believe that men are uniformly incapable of being exciting, reliable, and emotionally aware life companions, we'll continue to mock and shame young women who make romance a priority in their lives.

Feminist efforts stretch far beyond equal pay and abortion rights. The above statements are right on. Unfortunately insight into this is beyond the scope of so many. Wanting men to understand what women go through -- and more than that -- what men do to perpetrate suffering -- and more than that -- inspecting their own personal contributions to sexism, is seemingly a tall order. If women actually ask a man to consider these things, it may result in a blow to the male ego. A feared response, causes many women to remain hushed while fighting the conflicting thoughts of wanting to speak up and wanting to keep the peace. I understand that it may not occur to men that women are struggling as that is not what our society teaches them. We are not taught to look for or notice such things. That is patriarchy at work. To look inward is a humbling experience and humbling often equates to painful.

The late storyteller, folksinger and activist, Utah Phillips, has frequently spoken about patriarchy within his stories. When speaking about his involvement in the Korean War, in an NPR interview with Amy Goodman he said:

I decided that the idea of manhood that I've been given as a man -- that blueprint that my father had lied to me about manhood; my drill instructor, my army sergeant, my gym instructor: it was up to me to figure out what it really meant. 

When Amy asked him how he did this, he said: 

Painfully. It takes a long time to shut up and listen: it takes a long time to just shut up and listen.

To all the men and women who think that I put the onus on men alone: stop right there. I too must look inward. I've spent many nights sitting in front of a computer screen; reading comments to various articles and blog postings, of women who some deem "militant." As insulting as that stereotypical label is, I admit that I have been witness to rants spewed from the loud mouths of women whom I found to be too angry.

When I find myself harboring these thoughts; I do what I can to keep myself in check. I often remind myself of Utah's assertion that we all need to "just shut up and listen." When I start to think that a woman is too boisterous, I remind myself that there are plenty of folks out there who may think that of me. This is not to say that women are always right, but it is to insist that listening is important. Additionally, I find it important to understand that despite the resistance to a person's delivery, one thing is certain: women have every reason to be angry.

When a man or woman decides that feminists are too angry it would serve to remember that men are often angry, and patriarchy deems their anger as acceptable.

In 2008, Amy Goodman, remembers Utah in her article, Utah Has Left the Stage. The man who shared my birthday, died of heart failure at the age of 73. Far too young, if you ask me. Goodman shares that;

After three years in the Army, he went back to the state that earned him his nickname, Utah. There he met Ammon Hennacy, a radical pacifist, who had started the Joe Hill House in Salt Lake City, inspired by the Catholic Worker movement. Hennacy guided Utah Phillips toward pacifism. Utah recalled: “Ammon came to me one day and said, ‘You’ve got to be a pacifist.’ And I said, ‘How’s that?’ He said, ‘Well, you act out a lot. You use a lot of violent behavior.’ And I was. You know, I was very angry. ‘You’re not just going to lay down guns and fists and knives and hard angry words. You’re going to have to lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed.’ If there’s one struggle that animates my life, it’s probably that one.”

Thank you, Utah.

As I said earlier; for me, feminism isn't fun. I don't enjoy listening to the sound of my own voice, I don't enjoy walking around all day with my fist in the air. What I want is fairness. I want relief. I want less fear, less sadness; and less energy dedicated to fighting and defending myself. I want to think that I can speak up for myself without being told that I just need to get laid, or that I should smile, or given the insinuation that rape is what I have coming to me. One more word and somehow I have earned a "cock" in my mouth to shut me up.

You see folks; feminism isn't fun; it is an important and necessary task. If there were no such thing as patriarchy there would be no need for feminism. It's won't make you popular; it's not a badge of honor: feminism isn't cool.

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