Why I Still Need Feminism
This morning I woke up to find a disturbing video on my newsfeed. Unlike all the other disturbing videos I’ve seen passed around lately, this one was not a) about Donald Trump or b) shared by someone to point out the flaws in the video’s message. This was a video that mocked modern feminism as a scourge with which a decreasing number of American women are willing to associate. Whether or not the statistic this white male provided was accurate, the message reminded me that I am lucky to feel as though I can shout my feminism with pride and without fear of repercussions. But it also reminded me that shouting these beliefs is not just my privilege, it is also my duty.
Anne Helen Peterson wrote a piece published on Buzzfeed last week profiling the female supporters of Trump (link below) (Anne Helen Peterson & Hari Raghavan also run the lovely Facebook page, Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, which I highly recommend for your essential pop culture information dissected by intelligent people for your enjoyment.) After reading the article and watching the corresponding video, I found myself sympathizing with these women. They exist in the same patriarchal society that I do, many for much longer than I have existed, and they have chosen a way of coping with this reality. They have chosen the preschool blacktop model, the “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” model. And I cannot blame them. Perhaps they do not see it as a choice. Perhaps they feel that they are navigating their society as best they can without acknowledging any structural inequalities they deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps they feel that men and women are simply different from each other, and they have learned that the safest and most convenient way for them to navigate their lives is to understand what is expected of them as a woman, a mother, a wife. I cannot begin to pretend that I understand their points of view. These are only guesses. I am also willing to guess that they would spit on my sympathy and call me condescending. They would remind me that I know nothing about the intricacies of their lives, let alone the basics of their day to days. And they would be right. Who am I to tell a woman that she is doing a disservice to her gender? Who am I to tell a woman she is setting an example of complacency for her daughters? Who am I to tell a woman she is wrong for surviving under circumstances that for me would be unbearable? I cannot speak to these experiences. I can tell these women and these voters that I disagree with their views on all the significant political issues, that I find their ability to support an ignorant, racist, narcissist incomprehensible. But I cannot tell them they are doing a disservice to their sex. How can I? I have yet to find a way to successfully navigate this society myself.
I am a 23-year-old, white, only-child, college-educated, former Catholic school girl, who grew up in a middle class household and now finds it possible to pay her rent in a decent apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. I am lucky. I graduated from my private university without the burden of student debt. I traveled Europe for six weeks with my best friend. I got my first job a week after I started applying for positions. I have good community of friends and contemporaries whom I consider kinder, more compassionate, and more supportive than I deserve. I have health insurance and car insurance and renter’s insurance. My apartment has central air. I am lucky.
I take an anti-depressant each morning and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I have good days. I tend to have bad weeks, months, years. Lately the good has outweighed the bad, and for that I am grateful.
I think a lot about where depression comes from. How it could be possible for me, a young person of sufficient intelligence with sufficient means, to spend weeks, months, years in cycles of self-loathing? In periods in which it is difficult to ascribe any meaning to my existence, in which I seem to feel nothing beyond an all-encompassing worthlessness. More often, periods of total apathy.
This election cycle has reminded me of the societal factors that contributed to my self-hatred. The reasons I have to be disappointed in myself, the boys and men who have gnawed away at my self-worth, the societal expectations that I met or could not meet. I think about all the things I was exposed to growing up.
I think about the men of the Catholic Church, the priests who took advantage of their positions and manipulated their inferiors. The corruption that started at levels as low as a local parish and moved as high as the Vatican. The examples set by Jesus that I should be wholly selfless, empathetic to no end, a willing servant, and an unquestioning follower. That faith is something intangible that I do not need to see, or feel, or agree with to believe in. That guilt is one step closer to remorse, which is one step closer to forgiveness. That I should one day become a dutiful, God-fearing wife who would live to raise children to walk on the same path of righteousness. That I should defer to my husband in all matters of the household. That virginity is a virtue and sex is to be shared only within a God-sanctioned union. That adulterous women are punished more thoroughly than lecherous men.
I think about adolescent dance parties where the greatest form of flattery was a boy grabbing an unsuspecting girl from behind and moving his pelvis with no regard for the rhythm of the music. First dates where boys were expected to buy movie tickets and popcorn in exchange for a chance to stick their tongues down their dates’ throats in the dark. Middle schools that expelled girls for engaging in oral sex and slapped the hands of the boys who taught them what it was. Girls who went farther than 1st base were sluts, and boys who didn’t were queers. High school dances required codes shared amongst girl friends like a raised eyebrow or hand gesture to indicate needing help to escape a boy. Hours were spent hiding in bathrooms so he would stop looking for the object of his undesired affection. Sleepover fun consisted of toilet-papering the houses of boys who lied, who cheated, who disappeared. In later high school years, alcohol appeared and the games changed again. Boys pressured girls to drink, girls passed that pressure onto each other. Drunken mistakes were made.
I think about how all these things have shaped my interactions with men. The times I have hidden in back rooms, the hands I didn’t push away, the words I pretended not to hear. The times I thought it would be quicker to let him kiss me than explain to him the reasons for my, “No.” When an older coworker tells me he likes watching me walk. When a group of coworkers joke about hazing me in order to allow me into their frat. When a gay coworker tells me his sexuality negates all his crude comments. How I have become suspicious of any kind words, how impossible it feels to believe in a man viewing me as worth more than his libido. How I doubt my own appeal, how small a role my brain seems to play in his assessment of me. Why I don’t wear heels to job interviews. Why I hope my doctor is a female. Why I won’t admit to my own affections, knowing they make it easier to take advantage of me.
My body has become a scary place. There are a lot of things I feel I do not get to do after dark. I do not go to gas stations, I do not wear headphones outside, I do not go for runs. I text my friends to let them know I survived my Uber ride home. I tell someone if I am going to run an errand at a store in an area I am unfamiliar with. I ask a friend to walk me to my car. I park as close to the door as I can. I walk with my keys between each finger on my hand. I am already scared. I do not need these fears to get worse.
This election cycle has, more than anything, made me profoundly sad. The fact that women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Native Americans, and others have to work to prove that the issues they face are worth fighting for is unfortunate. That these citizens, naturalized or otherwise, permanent residents, or hard-working immigrants have to claw tooth and nail for their right to equality is beyond disheartening.
It is not even about Trump anymore. It is about the fissures that existed in our nation’s collective consciousness that his vitriol and hatred have widened into canyons. Even under a Clinton presidency, how are we going to reach those who stand on the other side of these valleys of disconnect? How do we begin to repair the damage Trump’s terrifying campaign has left in its wake? His validation of such hateful beliefs has segmented this country in ways I have never seen before. I know that I am young. I know that I am naïve. But I am afraid for the future of this country.
What I am not afraid of is feminism. We need this movement to continue to grow, to become more inclusive of women of color, of trans women, of Muslim women, of immigrant women. We need this movement to include young boys, fathers, pastors, police officers, doctors, senators, and White House staff. We need feminism to open our eyes to the future of possibilities for our nation.
I need feminism to help me find my place in this world. To figure out just what it is I am going to do with my life without fear of being told that I can’t. I need feminism to help me to feel comfortable in my body. I need feminism to help me grow to love my mind. I need feminism to figure out who I really am, outside of the structure of our patriarchal society.
This is me shouting. I still need feminism.
I will keep shouting.
1. “Women Explain Why They’re Standing By Trump,” by Anne Helen Peterson. Read it here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/trump-women-vow-were-with-him?utm_term=.nbKxOq7Ggz#.rkGMg1jDnO
2. “For Young Women Who Don’t Consider Themselves Feminists,” by Mindy Nettifee. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-aD9WrfWTM
3. “We Should All Be Feminists,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc