A few years ago, after a mental breakdown that had been a long time coming I made the decision that I was no longer a feminist because I felt so utterly let down and victimised by women I’d assumed were feminists (due to the nature of the work we’d done together). At the time I was going through another period of acute mental distress as a reaction to my father abusing his new family. I’d been as transparent as I could about it at work but I didn’t feel supported and eventually the toll of dealing with domestic abuse in my own life (along with a myriad of cultural oppressions) whilst trying to prevent it in the lives of many others manifested in a few very bad decisions that ultimately led to my seclusion from society.
Yes, I was guilty of dissociating when my triggers were at their worst. This translated into an anger that I found myself channelling towards other men, a problem considering the people we relied on for justice consisted of mostly men; police, courts etc. I had to bite my tongue when they conveniently forgot a client they didn’t like, or ‘accidentally’ disclosed details of a survivor’s safe house to the perpetrator who then beat her up, handing himself in when the job was done. When I tried to challenge the enablers of these incidents I was reminded of the fact that we needed to keep them on side and I needed to work on my personal and professional boundaries and not react emotionally. I agree that there has to be a certain level of professionalism and diplomacy in business where you’re trying to butter up a client you hope will give you a fuck ton of cash but I felt the public sector had a duty, regardless of their feelings about a person/situation. I was chastised for demanding this; somehow I was the one to blame not the incredibly misogynistic ‘allies’ who revelled in reminding me at every opportunity that they had the power to work well if they chose to.
It was shortly after I became medicated that I began a new relationship with a chap who, in hindsight, was drawn to the fact that I was vulnerable, the sort that proposes marriage before you’ve marked your 3 month anniversary. The kind of guy who’s been taken for a ride by every girlfriend he’s ever had, referring to them as ‘the ex’ (never by name), and somehow gets taken advantage of because he’s such a nice guy and you know how they finish last. Anyway, this dudebro focused on the fact that I was, as he saw it, an ex-feminist. I’d told him about the experiences I’d had with professional fems, how I ceased being a woman the second I set foot into the office and he reminded me of this whenever I expressed fem positive. I won’t deny it, I was angry at that time and agreed with everything he said about the movement and the kind of women involved in it. His fascist dad more or less humiliated me at the dinner table when they had me over for Christmas because he’d seen a bunch of feminist quotes on my Facebook profile and he’d thought I was ‘above that’. This was the man who’d slapped my bottom really hard and laughed raucously at my embarrassment. This was also a man who’d beaten my then fiancé’s mum for the course of their relationship, specifically when she was suffering post natal depression.
As I got better and gradually remembered my self-worth I started challenging the ideas he had for our future. Being in the forces it was expected of me to follow him wherever he was posted. I took issue with this; why was his life plan more important than mine? Frankly I was getting rather sick of feeling like a plug in to someone else’s life experience and was ready for my own script. He also thought it was funny to comment on my past and label me a slag as a ‘joke’. Yeah I’d had more experience than him and this made him feel inadequate but somehow it was my fault he had self-esteem issues. He’d said to me very early on in our relationship that he was only going to say it the once but he thought I was possibly smarter than him and we should never speak of it again. Except he did, every time he wanted to put me down for being a ‘know it all’ or when I scored 30 points more than him on an online IQ test or towards the end, whenever I offered an opinion on anything. I guess that’s why I challenged him as much as I did and why he, one day told me to fuck off, slammed the phone down on me and never called back. I was engaged right up until that phone call but it didn’t really mean anything. As a white cis man he had all the power in that relationship and he objected to any attempts at equality. It was a close shave for me, and the turning point in how I view myself, especially in the context of relationships within a heteronormative patriarchy.
I became a card carrying feminist again.
I felt duped and a little ashamed of the conversations I’d had with him. I’d written off feminism because of the actions of a few gatekeepers of the kyriarchy. With time I was able to separate the bunch of women who’d dismissed me for being culturally strange, for having the audacity to point out inconsistencies in their praxis and for demanding better and the rest of us, hesitant to label ourselves feminists because of the sorts of women most vocal in the movement; the white middle class feminists (and their token WoC).
I’ve written in length about this conflict within feminism. Now we have a counter movement (apparently) #WomenAgainstFeminism and they want the world to know they’re not like those other women haranguing men for rights to their own bodies. Sure these women have the right to identify in an which way they choose, a right feminists have protected but we have to comment on and understand the perspectives coming out of that discussion.
We have to face the fact that some women do believe themselves to be inferior to men and inherently different (biologically and spiritually) which is why they do not object to being treated less favourably. That self-hate is internalised and any woman demanding better is perceived as arrogant and self-interested. Whilst I feel sorry for these women I don’t waste my breath. Similarly there are the slut shaming body shaming /policing women who’ve survived by endearing themselves to the patriarchy, a place at the table as reward for navigating the tightrope to acceptance. If we go back far enough with any of these individuals we’d probably be compelled to show them compassion and empathy but who’s got the time for that?
Of course a huge number of women against ‘feminism’ come from those backgrounds that have been historically sold down the river. They may refer to themselves as womanists, they may refuse to label themselves but quietly continue doing the sort of work that feminists do; in their homes and communities, demanding better from boys and men.
If feminism had been more inclusive then maybe more women would ID as feminists. If patriarchy eased up on the backlash we might gain momentum but then we would win and the menz don’t want that. This is evident in the many ways men target and harass women online; making our cyber spaces unsafe and leaving us open to attacks and threats to kill. They do this to us because they are afraid we are making an impact and they want to shut us up by using an age old tactic to silence women; the risk of physical/sexual harm. That’s the only real advantage, generally speaking, that men have against women, this fear of male violence that we internalise from a very young age that controls us for the course of our lives. Of course they would object to a bunch of women battling to end male violence; they enjoy the control it gives them. Sure they’re going to mock us for believing survivors of domestic and sexual abuse regardless of whether the disclosure fulfils the criteria patriarchy has set out on what it means to be a victim. They’re going to make fake profiles and bait other feminists in a bid to catch them out; causing ructions between opposing factions so we’re too busy fighting each other to fight them. Except I don’t think they’ve realised yet that we can multitask for reals.
We may not call some other feminists friends (or even ‘feminists’ for that matter) and we might fight them day in and day out but given a choice I personally would still take a TERF for my team than an MRA, if for no other reason than female solidarity pisses them off. So there’s a contingent of women hellbent on winning favour with the menz they prefer to those gossiping snarky women, it’s no different to the girl who liked to hang out only with the boys at school. The one who was not like all the others; she was witty and intelligent and pretty but also low maintenance and strong enough to carry her own bags. In fact that girl was me. I have been that female as a fully grown woman too. It’s a lonely place; one that exists because you’ve been forsaken and treated badly by people you thought would get you. It’s reactionary and childish. It makes you feel powerful, to set yourself aside as somehow enlightened and who wouldn’t want to feel like that when the message society is constantly drip fed about free thinking autonomous women is that they’re just a bunch of lesbians intent on ending the human race with their morning after pills and disrespect for the sanctity of marriage and ownership and obedience.
For the record, if I ever have kids I want to stay at home and look after them. As a feminist, this is my right to choose. I advocate reproductive rights and access to abortion but I probably wouldn’t have one myself now. I want to conceive the ‘old fashioned’ way; with a man whose job it will be to provide. I LIKE doing chores. Y’see it doesn’t matter what I think about someone else’s life choices (or what they think about mine) because I am not living that life for them (and it’s none of their business). I live my life and despite my experiences (and hopes for the future) am proud to call myself a feminist.
..The intersectional kind (for those who missed that memo).