I’m a feminist. This is blasphemous. I fail to recognize why a statement about personal politics merits so much disdain. But if you are a feminist, it does.
Each person, has, at some point of time or the other, had to defend aspects of their identity. My feminism is a very crucial part of my identity. And I have not had to defend any other strand of my personal identity as much as I have had to stand up for my feminist politics.
Over time, in a friend circle, or indeed, any social circle, each person stands for something. Someone is a resident grammar nazi (although everyone seems to proclaim to be one, these days). Someone is the resident gamer. There is a nerd, a music aficionado, and so on. I am The Feminist in most of the groups I am part of. I stand for feminism in my social circles. (This is not unique, I am sure this happens to many, many feminists who are friends with people who are not feminists. People who are not feminists can be good people. As Sirius tells Harry once, the world is not divided into good people and death eaters). But that is a huge burden.
Feminism is a wonderfully multi-hued movement. Everyone has their own brand of feminism. It manifests in their lives in different ways. But since I represent feminism in a circle, I am attacked for every single decision made in the world that has the tag of feminism slapped on to it. I am required to defend it.
This is part of wearing your personal politics on your sleeve. It comes with it. But sometimes, I get tired. Not just an oh-god-it’s-been-a-hectic-day tired. It’s a bone deep weariness that steals my sleep. I wonder why I must be called on to defend everything about a political ideology which is so simple to understand. But I have to defend its nomenclature (why don’t you call it humanist, instead?). I have to defend its scope (men also suffer, you know?). I have to defend why it’s not about the people who are oppressing, it is about the people who are being oppressed (because, not all men). I have to defend how much it is still needed (but women have the vote now, don’t they?). I have to defend how much it has accomplished (what have you people done besides burn bras?). And most importantly, I have to defend myself every time I am trolled or abused for my personal politics in several spaces, especially online (what a Feminazi I am).
Feminism is a tricky thing. We internalize so much patriarchy along that way that it is hard, really hard, for us to realize when it is manifesting in our speech, thought or deed. Being continuously committed to feminism means that you need to keep evaluating your own performance. It means that you need to see how patriarchy is working through you. And that can be tiring.
I am sure all feminists do this. Most often, we do it without complaint. We do it with fire in our hearts and minds. We do it with deep, unshakeable conviction that we can and will make a safer and kinder place for women. We do it in the hope that somewhere, something we say or do is making someone’s life better in a small way. We are fuelled by different things- anger, rage, righteous indignation, love, compassion, care and respect.
But sometimes, the fuel runs out. The hope flags. The conviction stumbles. The fire dims. It is impossible to go full steam ahead all the time. Much like a race car, we need pitstops. We need someone else to fuel us. We need an external source of motivation. We need some down time so that we can find new ways to frame old truths, find new words to articulate important thoughts, pick new adjectives to interest people and read new things so we can understand each other better.
For a long time, I beat myself up for getting tired of defending feminism – an ideology that is so close to my heart. “You can’t get tired,” I’d tell myself. “You cannot complain.” But the thing is it’s okay to feel burdened. Its okay to say: This is hard, and harder than I thought it would be. Saying that you’re tired doesn’t mean you’re giving up. In fact, if you accept that you are feeling exhausted, you have embraced another important feminist lesson. Vulnerability is all right. It is all right to feel hollowed out.
It is when I have accepted to my feminist friends that I am tired that I have seen feminism in action in ways that fill me with warmth. They come to my aid. They uplift my spirits. They teach me new things. They link me to articles about good things happening in the world. They tell me that they have got it covered while I sit a couple of rounds out till I am fitter.
I am not advocating a universal friendship among feminists or, to use a gendered term, a ‘sisterhood’. Feminism is about celebrating our differences. It is about being confident, warm and compassionate enough to embrace diversity. It is about learning that women come in many shapes and sizes and personalities, and each one deserves an opportunity to be happy, confident and healthy.
When I am tired, these different women, coming from different backrounds, different nationalities, different sexual orientations and different personalities offer comfort to me in different ways. After I accepted that I was getting tired on some days, I understood how diverse feminism is.
When I am tired, feminist artists, writers, thinkers, academicians come to my rescue. I don’t know any of them personally. But I feel gratified. I feel a connection with these people who have nothing to do with me, really. There is nothing binding me to these people but for a shared commitment to feminism. But it feels like such a relief. It feels like a salve on a burning, aching wound.
We are so focused on fighting the good fight, on going full steam ahead, that we forget how peaceful feminism can make us inside. When I accepted that I was getting tired of defending my feminism to people, I realized how healing it can be, how much comfort there is in this ideology.
It is all right to feel tired on some days. Because on those days, you might just wind up discovering the many ways in which feminism has made you a wonderful person. And there is no better fuel than that.