Being a feminist isn’t easy. Not just because the patriarchy is stubborn as hell and ridiculously difficult to smash (what is UP with that?), but because all too often it is horrendously isolating. The sad truth is that as a feminist, eventually you may reach a point where the bonds that you have with people who do not identify as feminists will reach a breaking point. It will be difficult on both sides to maintain a friendship when your outlooks on life diverge so widely.
In my experience being a feminist is not something you can curtail and neatly compartmentalise. You cannot just be a feminist for a couple of hours every week when you’re attending a Feminist Society meeting, or you’re out protesting against antichoicers. Feminism bleeds into every aspect of your life in much the same way that patriarchy pervades almost everything we do. Naturally you will find yourself beginning to question and comment on tropes and ideas and practices that once seemed utterly normal (you mean to say women don’t ACTUALLY intrinsically love housework?! And we’re not totally hairless?! My gosh…) and nonfeminists hate that.
Your nonfeminist friends may love you but they cannot love the way you disrupt their comfortable ignorance about the realities of our gendered existences. Arguments will flare and feelings will be hurt. You may beg them to listen to the reasons why rape jokes are never okay, or why they need to care about the stealthy war on reproductive rights that is happening as I type. They will retort that ‘…you’re making a fuss over nothing’, or that ‘…you will never change anything anyway, so why even bother?’. No one ever leaves these kinds of exchanges satisfied, and sadly in my experience, over time you will both begin to resent each other. Not to mention the unfettered joy that bringing race into the equation can bring. If you happen to be a person of colour and you dare to try to explain the intersections of racist and sexist oppression then you have to be prepared for the overly defensive, accusatory reactions it evokes. Maybe you will be lucky enough to hear your friends denounce you as ‘having a chip on your shoulder’. Maybe you will endure the pleasure of being told that actually YOU’RE the racist one, for pointing out instances of racism. I could go on, but my blood pressure is high enough. Cutting ties with people you care about is never easy, in fact it can be downright heartbreaking. However you have to remember to put your own mental health first, and the truth is that constantly being around people who belittle you and your beliefs is toxic. A helpful snippet I came across is, “Sometimes you have to give up on people. Not because you don’t care, but because they don’t”.
The good news is that once you have cut loose from those who bring you down you can find excellent, shiny, new feminist friends*. And it will be a revelation. As a feminist your life will be open to a vast network of brilliant, badass, supportive women who have your back no matter what. These women will listen to your experiences of sexist microaggressions, and they will send you solidarity when they can’t be there in person to shout down misogynists for you. They will call you out when you (inevitably) slip up. They will never question your body or your clothing choices. They won’t sigh and tell you to shut up when you’re watching television together and you complain about the grossly gendered adverts. They will be there with you when all you need to do is cry and scream and throw things because you are just so damn sick of ‘mansplaining’
and misogynist trolls and ‘jokes’ where your gender is the punchline. They will understand the helpless, suffocating burn out that often comes from not being able to disengage the feminist part of your brain.The friendships that are formed between feminists are to be treasured, for that sense of solidarity is rare in our patriarchal, miserable world where we seem to take one step forward and two steps back.
* If you’re in the position of not knowing any feminists in real life then I can’t recommend tumblr highly enough. Some useful blogs to follow are:
http://brightonfeministcollective.tumblr.com/ http://wocinsolidarity.tumblr.com/ http://fuckyeahfeminists.com/ http://thosepeskydames.tumblr.com/ http://friendlyangryfeminist.tumblr.com/ http://radtransfem.tumblr.com/
Kesiena is a nineteen year old student of Sociology at the University of Sussex. She is a part of Brighton Feminist Collective, a committee member of her University’s Women’s group and a guest vlogger for Youtube feminists Those Pesky Dames. If she’s not thinking about feminism she is probably asleep.