The feminist on/off switch

In a post called “Solidarity through Parenting” over at Barnard’s The Scholar & Feminist Online, blogger brownfemipower wrote about keeping her family life separate from her life as a radical feminist for the WoC movement (P.S.: this). This article was cathartic for me to read, due to (constant) run-ins I’ve had with my family while I am home for the holidays. Feminism isn’t just one opinion that I have among many other opinions; it’s a personal philosophy and a lens through which I try to understand everything else in the world. My feminism and activism are a personal process; sometimes it’s great and empowering, sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes it forces me to deal with things that I don’t want to. As a person I have to let myself feel angry, miserable, excited, and a wide range of natural reactions to the things around me; but as a feminist teacher, I try to keep myself in a secure enough place that I can temper these reactions to gently introduce a feminist perspective to the people I’m with. I know that one of the most important things we can do as individual feminists is to share it with the people who are close to us. So although my family is comprised of very nice people who certainly “care” about social justice, why do I find myself sometimes flicking the ‘off’ switch when I’m at home?

Pros of The Off Switch:

1) I can ignore the strong feelings that I sometimes need to feel in order to feed my own activism, because I’ve decided it’s more important to be agreeable.

2) I’m not constantly running away to send upset texts to my friends explaining a very detailed scenario and asking for “feminist validation”.

3) Everyone gets to hide behind their privilege Okay that is such a bullshit answer I can’t even bring myself to put it here.

Cons of The Off Switch:

1) I’m not living up to a personal standard of incorporating feminism into all aspects of my life, since it is relevant to all aspects of my life.

2) I’m undermining a movement by being embarrassed to embrace it in certain public spheres.

3) I’m not giving my family enough credit for accepting me as I am (even though they say they do but don’t always act like it).

4) I’m not trusting myself to handle potentially negative interactions (dismissal, eye rolling, the “not cool” vibe, etc.) with the people from whom I’d take it the most personally.

Okay, so I didn’t really need to make the list.

from brownfemipower:
“Any organizer knows what I am talking about—organizers, more often than not, choose to keep their radical lives, their organizing jobs, so separate from their families, their homes, their neighborhoods, that it feels like they live double lives: the life where they are accepted as normal, interesting, and loved for who they are, and the life where they sit in silence, biting tongues and rolling eyes, and are loved for who their families think they are.”

When we talk about feminist movements, who exactly do we hope we are reaching? I know that I don’t run events on my campus for the benefit of my own little circle – we do it to introduce feminist concepts to people outside the movement. I want to reach out to the misogynists, the man-haters, the the older and the younger, politicians, consumers, workers, artists, the guy who honked at me in traffic, Other People’s Families. I want to stand on the roof and yell at the top of my lungs and proclaim feminism to the world!

…But I know that won’t work. When we talk about real social change, we talk about recognizing systems of power and privilege in our own lives. I accept parts of myself as oppressed, and (more) parts of myself as oppressor. I seek to be respectful, celebratory, and liberating towards others in all aspects of my life – I can’t afford to be selective about when and where I challenge paradigms that dominate. The point is that they dominate – if I give an inch, they can take a mile just with sheer momentum. In a way, it’s easier to stop strangers in a hallway and ask them to reconsider their language. It’s easier to protest an event, march around campus, write letters and make phone calls and blog and teach and start conversations when you’re doing it all with strangers.

You know what my superhero show would be subtitled? Feminist by Day….Coward by Night, Because as much as I embrace learning about and doing what is right, it’s HARD. Yes, it’s hard work! I’d like to come home at night and put my feet up and not have to challenge every uncalled-for judgment, presumption, or offensive joke. I’d like to, but I can’t, for my own sake. We all have a right to safe spaces, to security, to love, and to rest. But everything depends on context. What does it cost me to keep going – annoyance? Exasperation? Tell that to people around the world who suffer and have died for worse. If I can reasonably sustain myself, I don’t get to take a break JUST BECAUSE IT’S HARD. And besides, if I can’t confront these things in my own home, in my own personal space…how can I profess to others that they do the same? Dealing with these things at home is, in a sense, really getting inside my own head. Testing the love and security which will, I do know, be there at the end of the day. If I have the privilege of knowing that I won’t be kicked out of my house, won’t be abused, won’t have my self-worth undermined for suggesting such a thing…damn it, I have an obligation to call people out.

“[My] husband was the only person in my family who knew that I blogged, spoke at conferences, advocated for the dissolving of the nation/state, and more than likely had been subject to FBI surveillance while attending a march with a local anti-war organization[…]. I get what’s wrong with this. What’s the point of doing all these things if you’re limiting yourself to people you have less influence over? We need to share ourselves with the people we’re close to, invite them into our spaces the way we unobtrusively sit in theirs, allow them to see the hurt and the anger and the joy I experience as a self-identified part of a movement…and, as a teacher, meet them where they are at, accept them as they are so that they have the same love and security that enables me to then seek out other ways to understand the reality that I live in.

“The pressure on me to attend to two separate communities at the same time fades a little more each time we, as a community, deconstruct old borders and embrace the reality that feminism*s* is where the answers are[…]One thing I do know for sure, however, is that if I can’t act in solidarity with my daughter, if I can expressly reject solidarity with her in the name of a Movement she has little in common with or need of, what kind of organizer would I be?(All emphases are mine.)

Thanks brownfemipower, for sharing your story in a way that makes me take a hard look at myself. Your voice will be missed*.

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About FemWriter

FemWriter is a dedicated unlearner, privilege caller-outer, language finicker, and aspiring professional feminist.
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