Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Under Pressure in the Feminist Community

Most feminists assert that as long as you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist. They encourage people to take on the feminist identity and wear it with pride. There's certainly no shame in being a feminist. At least, I don't think so, though I have been attacked for being an out and proud feminist by ignorant douchebuckets.

But I've found that while being a feminist is (supposedly) as easy as believing in gender equality, being a part of the feminist community is hard. Online and in club meetings, I'm in almost constant contact with people who believe that if you're a feminist, you should do X, or you shouldn't do Y, or you should also believe Z, etc. There are unofficial rules. Suddenly it's not enough to just believe in gender equality, you have to not only support but be actively involved in every social justice movement currently in existence; every consumer choice must be informed and socially responsible - local, small business, woman owned (ideally), fair trade, organic, vegan, doesn't support violent conflicts overseas or causes counter to the progressive agenda, etc.; donate most of your disposable income to charities, but only really good charities; avoid mainstream media and watch mostly independent movies and listen to independent music, especially stuff performed and produced by women, especially queer women and women of color, absolutely nothing that sexualizes women, or anything violent (violence is inherently counter to social justice, apparently); never support banks, you must keep your money in credit unions; stick to organic cosmetics that don't contain any carcinogens; I can list off all the "rules" I've been exposed to all day, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

There's nothing horrible about these rules, they all act to further important social justice campaigns. It's just really unrealistic to expect one person to adhere to all the rules the feminist community constantly tries to shove down the throats of its members. The model, ideal feminist is just that - ideal. It's hardly achievable. If you're poor, chances are you can't afford to adhere to the "rules" regarding what you should and should not buy, and where you should and should not buy it. Not to mention, poor and even middle class women don't have a lot of free time or resources to participate in social justice as much as the feminist community expects of its members. Third wave feminism may advocate for poor women, but the community itself is still one that poor women cannot participate in without feeling guilty, like they fall short of expectations. The conferences are expensive, the focus on academic theories and constant
examination and analysis of privilege is one that practically requires a college education.

Not to mention, it's counterproductive. Feminism counters the idea that women should live up to this socially constructed "ideal woman," because that impossible ideal is detrimental to women's self-esteem - but the feminist community has itself constructed an ideal feminist that is just as hard to live up to without tremendous sacrifice. The "ideal feminist" leaves little room for individuality. It's hard to be multidimensional and pursue one's unique set of interests if you're giving your whole self to social justice activism. I myself feel guilty for leaving Students for Choice early to attend ballet class.

In my middler year I threw myself into activism. When I wasn't in class or attending activist and political groups on campus, I was going from protest to protest, at each rally learning about upcoming events and going to whatever I could. But in doing so I sacrificed my other interests. Then, I'm ashamed to admit, the pendulum swung the other way when I went back to anime club and almost immediately began dating a guy in the club. Nowadays I try to strike a balance, it's the best thing I can do for myself. But that balance means that I still feel guilty for hearing about a protest or meeting or speakout or rally of some kind that my peers in Students For Choice or the Feminist Student Organization passionately compel each other to attend. I feel like a bad feminist for once again missing the CLPP conference, this year because my ballet recital is that weekend (in past years I've missed because of work - again, the almost inherent classism rears its ugly head, in order to attend CLPP you not only need money and transportation, but the whole weekend off, which isn't doable for people who work part time jobs, many of which not only prefer but require weekend availability).

Maybe I'm being paranoid, maybe it's anxiety, maybe I'm "just crazy" (because y'know, women are all insane), and maybe people aren't judging me as harshly as I think they are. Maybe I'm insecure and too desperate to win the approval of my peers - but isn't it human to want to win over the approval of the community you want to belong to? I can't be the only one internalizing all this pressure from the feminist community. Ultimately, this may do more harm than good. Encouraging each other to take up other causes and be informed consumers is one thing, and an intersectional approach certainly has merit, but the insane pressure to live up to this feminist ideal may be turning people off from the movement. It's the same way I don't identify as Wiccan, and sometimes I'm even hesitant to call myself Pagan because I may not be Pagan "enough," I may not know enough or worship enough or fit the model of a "correct" Pagan to deserve the identity. Sometimes I'm hesitant to even try to become a member of the feminist community because I feel inadequate.

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