“I’m never going to to find a guy I don’t dislike”, says my angry feminist friend. “Yeah, once you start reading about this stuff, there’s just no going back. I can’t remember the last time I watched a rom-com and enjoyed it”, responds another.
Feminism (or any other ideology) gives you a kind of lens through which you interpret the actions of others in a different light. Suddenly, your well-meaning cousin is actually deeply misogynistic and your mother has internalized misogyny to the extent that she is in denial. You yourself have years of beliefs and behaviours to unlearn. Everything is a feminist issue. You are angry, and on most days you are tired of being angry.
“You feminists are angry about everything.”
“Listen, calm down. Not everything is about women. Stop victimizing yourselves.”
I hear these statements often – sometimes directed at me, most times not. Here’s why I have a problem with them: using gender and sexuality markers of identity to categorise people and put them into boxes is a futile exercise. As social animals, our identities intersect with one another allowing us to develop distinct and unique experiences and by extension, perspectives. Feminists, then, are not a homogenous group of people that hate men. Our conditions and dispositions work together to determine the particular positions that each of us occupies. The issues we grapple with are not uniform. Hence, the need form a feminism that is much more intersectional.
As individuals, we cannot compartmentalise the issues the some individuals face – they are pervasive and messy, they overlap and intersect. Something that might not seem to emerge from a patriarchal standpoint, probably does according to somebody whose experiences have led them to understand patriarchy differently. The oppression and discrimination we face or perpetrate is a reflection of our intersecting identities. Understanding this helps us put into perspective why something might bother one person while it does not bother another.
Understanding things and situations as gendered or not also has its roots in privilege.
Those who are more privileged can afford to overlook that gender, in a particular situation, has determined a particular outcome. Additionally, we tend to look at actions on the basis of the intentions of the person. We are tempted to give a pass to anyone whose actions were harmful, but weren’t intended to be so. When we do so, however, we not only excuse ignorance but also fail to acknowledge the impact that it has had on other persons. It helps nobody when we don’t hold ourselves or others accountable under the pretext of ‘good intentions’.
To be fair, sometimes it does seem like a bit of a stretch to me too. For example, I don’t understand all the fuss about gendered language when it comes to words like ‘history’. It doesn’t seem as important to me personally, but that in no way means that I should ask others to stop fighting the fight. The least I can do is to let them fight their battles without belittling them or their issues. Although I don’t understand it, I do owe it to others to understand that it is something that impacts them deeply and they have therefore every right to fight for what they believe in. A little empathy goes a long way in understanding that they are not being over-sensitive. We feel the need to call them so because they’re probably right.
Our dismissal of feminists as over-sensitive, angry, and irrational is merely a way to wield power so as to further silence oppressed voices. By doing so, we uphold power structures as well as perpetuate gender stereotypes about how we perform emotions. When we call someone an angry feminist, we are not merely pointing out a fact. More often than not, it is an attempt to deem them unfit for conversation, stopping any fruitful discussion before it can even begin.
Our dismissal of feminists as angry, and irrational is merely a way to wield power to further silence oppressed voices.
Anger and rationality are not mutually exclusive. The idea that one needs to separate their words from their experiences and themselves is flawed. We derive statistics from individual and collective experiences, not from thin air. Anger is an expression of a reaction to a threat, and one of frustration. What might seem over-sensitive is merely the presence of emotion. In eliminating emotion from our politics, we achieve nothing. When we dismiss somebody’s words because they are an ‘angry feminist’, we are attempting to protect ourselves from criticism. We deny that we are complicit in perpetrating misogynistic thought and behaviour through our own actions. Emotion is not the enemy, denial is.
Is feminism really going ‘too far’? Or have we internalised our misogyny to the extent that we use cheap tricks to distract ourselves from the possibility that gender is rooted in everything we say or do, and that we are part of the problem?
Maybe I should calm down.
Featured image source: Firstpost