The vulnerabilities of my feminismLLabels. It can be appealing to reject them altogether, or to locate our identities outside of a word, a box, or a boundary. Many of us like to think we defy definition, that we are exceptional. However, adopting a label can also allow us to step out of isolation and into a community. But what happens when taking on that label, in particular the identity of feminist, makes us vulnerable to scrutiny — both from those who do not identify as feminists and from those who do?
I’ve called myself a feminist for a long time. However, I didn’t fully realize what that meant for me, or how challenging but also wonderfully life-changing that could be, until I started my good old feminist self-education a few years ago. I discovered feministing.com and read every article religiously for a year. I discovered privilege, the patriarchy, the kyriarchy, intersectionality, “waves” of feminism, ableist language. I became increasingly aware of the importance of acknowledging privilege and striving for a culture of consent and trans* inclusivity. The more I learned, the angrier (and more self-aware) I became. And I realized that I too have been guilty of internalized misogyny, homophobia, ableism, and racism, and acknowledging and combatting these is all part of an ongoing process. I continue to learn, I continue to fall short, and all the while I am proud to call myself a feminist…
Feminism on the Internet
…This despite my discomfort with the way feminism, like “gay rights” (à la HRC), has been appropriated by celebrities and marketing departments who want to capture the attention and dollars of more liberal-thinking consumers. While large corporations package their products and politics in the rainbow, or preach “female empowerment” in their online advertising, individual feminist bloggers and artists face the realities of what it really means to do feminist work on the Internet. “Mens Rights Activists” (MRAs) make it a hobby to seek feminists who are sharing ideas on Twitter and bait them into time-consuming argumentative exchanges, or they spam their accounts with insults, contradictions, and threats.
There is something difficult and often uniquely intimate and vulnerable about being a feminist on the internet, but it’s not only the risk of being trolled by the Men’s Rights Activists or the challenge of reclaiming feminism from online corporate co-opting. It is the scrutiny and judgment that comes from within feminist movements. Considering that critique (along with praxis) is what feminists do best, we are excellent at pointing out weaknesses, even each other’s. And sometimes in our exchanges we are passionate, even indignant.
This is Both Wonderful and Terrifying.
Declaring yourself a feminist on the internet means that what you say there is going be to be judged according to the standards of other people’s feminisms. It means that other feminists are going to disagree with you and even maybe call you a bad feminist, or worse, not a feminist at all; it does not necessarily get easier to avoid defensiveness when you are called out by another feminist. We are all trying so hard to dismantle injustice, and we all know that language really matters. The majority of us care a lot. It can really be disheartening to feel attacked regarding something you felt sure enough about to publish online, or to realize that you made a mistake or overlooked something really important.
The fear of other feminists can be strong. For me that fear has been strong enough to make me “chicken out” of writing on the issues I really care about … so I can see how it would deter people from identifying as feminists altogether. Even with this healthy fear—in part, perhaps, because of it—feminism has made me feel more awake than I ever have before. It has grounded me and changed how I live my life and make art. It has given me a framework of simultaneous challenge and empowerment from which to build. Of course at times I know that I’ll make mistakes; I worry that I’ll be perceived as a bad feminist. But I agree with Roxane Gay when she writes,
“I would rather be a bad feminist
than no feminist at all.”
All my love,