My mother phoned a few weeks ago, and she sounded purposeful but hesitant, like she had finally worked up the courage to tell me something important. 'Honey,' she said, her voice broken with concern. 'I want you to stop being a feminist. I love you too much to see you turn into a terrorist'. As she went on about her concerns, I quietly amused myself with the thought of coming home to a room full of concerned faces and a big banner reading: INTERVENTION. Muffled sniffles of my loved ones. 'We fear it's gone too far,' someone would say. 'You need to stop being so conscientious of the social inequalities and hierarchies of power that plague this world. Before it's too late.'
I've been a feminist since before I knew there was a word for it, and it has always baffled me how it was even possible for a person not to be. If feminism is the belief that women are as human as men, that women should be able to own their bodies and make choices about their lives, who could possibly disagree with it?
It seemed so outrageously simple to me, and it confused and saddened me that so many men and women who were so clearly aligned with my beliefs, not only refused to identify as feminists, but out of some obscure understanding of feminism as a grainy, black and white montage of women burning bras and chopping off their husbands' dicks, went as far as condemning it as a destructive movement, or dismissing it as an irritable fad that needed to cease. Why weren't these people feminists? It was a question I just couldn't crack. Eventually, in the midst of flipping the bird at a group of particularly rowdy cat callers, the answer came to me: because it's easier not to be.
Feminism is hard. Being a feminist isn't as simple as putting up your hand and saying that you think women are humans too- though that's a start. Feminism is not a mere political orientation; it's a process- a long, difficult, exhausting, and often disheartening process of unlearning every problematic 'truth' one has internalised over their life, about sex, gender and race. It involves a lot of self-education and self-reflection, which requires initiative, and a very thick skin.
A person who identifies as feminist never does so because they've been taught that it's a swell thing to be, but rather the opposite- they are feminist despite society's efforts to demonise it. You don't declare yourself a feminist expecting a pat on the back; you do it knowing there'll be backlash, knowing that your friend will roll her eyes every time you exhibit even a trace of it, knowing you'll make yourself a leper in the eyes of your cute-as-hell date, that as soon as you say the word he'll cringe away like it comes with a side of herpes and a sixth toe.
We all exist in the thick of it; of rape culture, of slut shaming, of glass ceilings, body shaming and the normalisation of humiliation porn- and it takes a certain kind of person, a certain analytical mind, a certain amount of open-mindedness and courage, to question a culture from within it. It's incredibly hard to question what you know to be true. To locate and then pick away at your own internalised misogyny, and to try to break down how it came to form such a fundamental part of your understanding of gendered identities. To sit there and think, 'So why do I think that wearing a short skirt legitimates rape? Why do I think women's hormones make them inferior professionals? Why do I think that women are bad at math? That sex is something masculine; what men enjoy and women endure? Who told me that? And most importantly, why?'
I feel like being a feminist is a lot like having shards of shattered glass in your body that you have to painstakingly remove one by one. Some shards are hidden so deep, lodged so stubbornly that it may take you years, or even a lifetime to locate, let alone remove. Unlearning internalised misogyny is something you must do alone, and navigating the twisted labyrinths of your own prejudices is not a happy pastime. The truth is that it hurts, so much, to be a feminist, and to consume or be involved in feminist dialogue.
It is gut wrenching to learn about the 8-year-old Yemen girl who died of sexual injuries on her wedding night to her 40 year old groom. It is soul crushing to see the slut shaming and victim-blaming that followed the brutal assault of actress Christy Mack, who is now in need of a facial reconstruction after having her skull crushed in by an MMA fighter's vengeful fist. It is infuriating to learn that sex education practitioners still pass around chocolates around the classroom, to demonstrate how the more a woman is touched, the 'dirtier' she becomes, the less fit she will be for male consumption, and thus, the less she will be worth as a human being.
It's impossible to become immune to images and tales of misogyny, and it's incredibly painful to have to seek out these images, to follow stories of the shaming, abuse, rape and death of women, day after day, to expose old wounds and create new ones, in the name of education. It is so, so difficult, and nobody tells you that.
Feminism is not for the faint hearted. God, I wouldn't wish it upon anybody. But alas, I believe in feminism like I believe the earth is round, like I believe that burritos are delicious and that Mark Ruffalo is beautiful. So for all of you poor bastards that have been cursed with the belief that women are full human beings who deserve to live as they please, and feel the need to label yourself with the dreaded F-word, my deepest condolences to you.
If you feel like you're consuming or contributing to feminist dialogue only to be filled with sadness and dread, hang in there. If you feel like you're constantly defending your character against people who deem feminism to be a pollutant of it, aren't we all? If you feel like you're a little sammie swimming upstream, it's because you are. And you're a damn soldier for it. Good onya.