‘Remember. You are an eloquent disabled feminist beneficiary. You are the stuff of their NIGHTMARES and they are SCARED.’
This is what a very good friend of mine said to me a few weeks ago when I was struggling to cope with some of the responses I was receiving to my activism. It makes me laugh and reignites me every time I read it.
I’m very lucky to have incredible, strong, wise friends who I can look to for guidance, because I’m still learning about feminism and what it means for me. There’s possibly no “right way” to be a feminist but I think there can be harmful approaches, so I do my best to be open and humble in order to learn from others’ experience.
It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve started to feel comfortable even calling myself a feminist. It wasn’t something I was interested in when I was younger. I grew up in a very male-dominated household and that has something to do with it, but really it’s just because the patriarchy has such an intrinsic and massive grip that it’s a scary and unknowable thing to start pulling at that hidden thread and most of the time it’s so carefully sewn in. What will happen when the whole thing unravels? Not to mention I had a complete lack of awareness of what feminism actually means (I liked cooking for men, so how could I be a feminist?), which is exactly how the patriarchy likes it. Demonise the feminist – or worse, make her a figure to be laughed at and dismissed – and perpetuate your iron grip. Good gag.
As you become a feminist, your eyes get wider and wider and it’s impossible to close them again. Sometimes I find it frustrating, because I can’t enjoy some of the things I used to without critiquing them. I can’t be an unquestioning consumer. I see something that makes me angry almost everywhere I look. It’s exhausting being angry all the time. It’s necessary to channel the anger, and take breaks, and know that others are fighting alongside you.
Which is why I’m heartened to read people like Laurie Penny and Cara Ellison. And I’m grateful I have friends who introduce me to them.
Cara wrote a piece recently about being a creative woman, and how much of a fight it is to occupy that space. It’s really stuck with me, partly because it’s just hauntingly beautiful writing. But also obviously because I am a creative woman, and it spoke to that in me. My friend Jem, also a creative woman (are there any who are not?) wrote about an experience she had in response to that piece – On Privilege, Misogyny Behemoths, and Real Life.
Jem’s one of those women I look to. Not for answers, exactly, but for kindness. For wisdom, because she’s experienced a lot of things and done a lot of thinking about those things and is in a unique space to share that thinking with me. Recently, she wrote me this, about being a feminist and a friend:
“Feminism is an intrinsic part of me, as is being a friend. They manage to coexist inside me, they should be able to coexist outside of me too. False dichotomies are the patriarchy’s game, not ours. Humans are clever enough to do two things at once. It makes for a more nuanced approach, but it didn’t take much to rebalance everything to get it to work.
Being a woman means an eternal dance on a tightrope, walking the thin line of ‘appropriate’, ‘acceptable’, ‘mainstream’, ‘activist’, ‘feminist’, ‘professional’, and whatever other million different dimensions we have to navigate. Push the boundaries, but don’t break them. Fight, but fight in the right way. Don’t raise your voice, watch your tone. Make sure the other side is considered, or they won’t listen. And be careful not to bleed, because there are sharks in the tank just below, and you will be falling in at some point.
But, we walk the tightrope because we have no choice. It’s either that or be small, and we are all too big to allow ourselves to be small. So we walk it, and we fight.”
Pretty powerful stuff, huh? I cried when I first read it, and I’m crying again now. Her writing often effects me this way. They are not sad tears, although there is pain in them. No one gets to be this fucking smart without having swum with some sharks to get there. But her wisdom, her strength, infects me. They are also tears of joy, because someone gets it. Someone knows. And I’m lucky enough to have that someone by my side.
(There’s often a point in my writing that I get so impassioned that I have to stop for a second and shake my head and go ‘wait, where was I going with this?’ This is that point. If I go and make a cup of tea, I’m sure I’ll remember).
I guess what I’m saying is, I have many opportunities to educate myself, and I’m grateful to the people who have given me that. That probably wouldn’t have happened without Twitter. My community is deeply valuable. We debate, but we debate openly and mostly without defensiveness. We feel and express anger, but we try to speak with kindness and compassion. Even when I don’t engage, which I mostly don’t because I don’t feel like I know enough to do so, I observe, and learn.
I find it interesting that some people find feminists scary. I think, in many cases, that’s a good thing. It means we’re shaking their foundations, which are usually built by patriarchal architects. It means we’re questioning the status quo. It means we’re a force to be reckoned with.
But I’m not scared. Feminists are my friends.