Feminist Fatigue

I’ve been ‘out’ as a feminist for at least the last 4 years, although I’d held feminist values for a lot longer than that. For me, being a feminist has become one of the most important aspects of my identity. I’ve actively involved myself in student feminism and most people know me as ‘that feminist girl’. I like that, for the most part. Feminism is incredibly important to me. Without sounding too much like I’m giving myself a pat on the back, talking about and learning about women’s liberation and equality is something I spend a lot of my time doing. That’s the thing about being a feminist. It’s not a hobby or a part-time thing. It is a 24/7 commitment to constantly reconsidering the way you’ve been taught to think about things. It is constantly learning and relearning because it is a movement that is incredibly multi-faceted and constantly changing. It is being called out and eating humble pie, a lot, and not complaining about that because that’s how you learn how to be a better feminist. It is realising that your favourite TV show is really problematic or that the song you can’t stop humming degrades women and the lyrics actually make you incredibly uncomfortable.

Being a feminist is also dealing with people’s reactions to your beliefs. You find yourself having a lot of the same conversations with people, constantly clearing up the same misconceptions about feminism, and answering the same questions over and over again. A lot of the time, the people who ask these questions mean well and want to learn about feminism, they just don’t necessarily know any better and may not have much experience of feminist rhetoric. We all start out somewhere and asking these questions is another part of becoming a better feminist. That isn’t to say it doesn’t become frustrating. Sometimes the people posing these same tired questions do not care whether you answer or not. Sometimes they just want to tell you they disagree with you and don’t care about your rebuttal. A common example is the conversation I have had with people more times than you’ve had hot dinners: Isn’t feminism all about hating men and women becoming more powerful than men? Sigh. No. No, it simply is not.

In the end, you form your own standard go-to answers. The questions become so frequent, you memorise it like a script. And then there are other times, when you just don’t want to answer at all. Because you are tired and you’ve been asked this a million times before and the person doesn’t really care about the answer anyway, and that’s okay. It is no one’s obligation to educate anyone about feminism if they don’t want to. In involving yourself in the equality movement, you did not also sign up to be a teacher and life coach after all.

Generally it’s fairly easy to take it all in your stride. It’s part of talking about your politics. You can’t please everyone or expect everyone to agree with you all the time. Sometimes, however, it can all get a bit much. The questions wear you down, people’s ignorance and rude comments don’t slide off your back like they usually would, and sometimes it all just seems a bit futile. I like to refer to this feeling as feminist fatigue and I am no stranger to it. There have been several occasions recently when, personally, the fight for equality and the backlash I received about my beliefs left me exhausted and demoralised. I found myself wishing I could just forget about everything and curl up in bed and watch a lot of crappy TV and avoid everything.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Turning off the part of my brain that’s wondering whether this romcom would pass the Bechdel test (probably not) or why it isn’t socially acceptable to eat my body weight in Doritos doesn’t work like flipping a switch. As I said before, being a feminist is a 24/7 thing and you can’t just opt out and choose to ignore the inequality everywhere because you’re a bit tired. Being a feminist is bigger than me and it doesn’t matter if I’ve had a hard week and a few people I don’t even know said nasty things about me. Deciding to give up because of those things is ultimately just me being selfish and making everything all about me, when really it’s about doing the right thing, whether it’s difficult or not. So while feminist fatigue sucks, so do inequality and oppression and prejudice and my bad day kind of pales in comparison to those things.

Ultimately, being a feminist can be tough. People will disagree and sometimes it will sting and things will be difficult. No one said it was an easy fight, but it is a fight worth fighting. So when feminist fatigue hits, and it will and that’s okay, the best thing to do is to take a step back and a deep breath and reassess for a moment. Pick your battles. I want to make the world a better place in whatever way I can, but I also know that some things are just not worth the battle and will leave me worn down and discouraged. Surround yourself with positive people who’ll pick you up and remind you that not everyone is against you. And remember that while everyone is allowed bad days, not everything is always about you and that’s okay too.

Rachel Knott

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8 thoughts on “Feminist Fatigue

  1. Something for you to consider. Is having “feminist” as part of your self identity actually a good thing? When people like myself attack feminism it is the ideology, not the individual. When you incorporate an idea into your self identity it makes that idea into dogma that can not be changed. By making feminism part of your identity you are binding yourself to the problems, not the solutions.

    • You’re claiming that someone who identifies with an ideological position is dogmatic. Is that necessarily true? Seems like one hell of a generalization to me, to start with – what, have people who strongly identify with a position never, ever changed their views?

      You’re presupposing that feminism is a problem at the end there. What if they are right, and you’re wrong? What if your own dogma is blinding you to that?

      Is it so wrong to take an ideology that promotes gender equality as part of your identity, not least if you are a part of those groups that are disadvantaged in a patriarchal society? Is it always dogma? Is the slave preaching emancipation dogmatic? Would you say the same to them?

      You’re arguing this in the wrong place. For purely academic debates, perhaps you could throw this argument against identifying strongly with an ideology. When that ideology is about equal treatment for everyone, and you’re telling the disadvantaged that they’re dogmatic for wanting equal treatment… you might just be a part of the problem.

      • Feminism is an ideology. We are not disagreeing on that. When someone makes an ideology part of their self identity, that ideology turns into immutable dogma.

        The problem with feminism isn’t that people identify with it, but that they make it part of who they are. The problems that feminism is trying to fight become immutable laws of nature or something. “The Patriarchy” becomes an immutable fact of reality. The person by making feminism part of their self identity is binding themselves to the continuation of the patriarchy. Without “The Patriarchy” feminism is hateful sexist bigotry, so feminists, ideological feminists that have made this part of their self identity can’t let go of the patriarchy.

        Also, get a dictionary. Feminism is first and formost a women’s right’s movement/ideology. It is not a gender equality movement.

        • Surely the point of Feminism – the very underlying principle – is that patriarchy is not immutable, that it can be changed. This is the point of any social justice movement; that society is not immutable and can be changed. But you’re claiming this movement that demands that society change is responsible for preventing that very change – and yet patriarchy has run without the support of feminists for centuries. Did it fall victim to the 90’s dependency culture or something?

          “Hateful sexist bigotry”. Of course there are a handful of terrible people who call themselves feminists – draw any line through society and you’re going to hit a few horrible individuals – but do you really believe that feminists are “hateful sexist bigots”? Take a wander around this blog, go read some of UK Feminista’s website. What, are they calling for men to be beaten in the streets and confined to the home, or to lose their jobs when they have children or something? ‘Coz I ain’t seeing it. If there were no patriarchy, then there’d be no call for feminism and nobody would join the movement. If you’re claiming that feminists sustain the illusion of patriarchy to continue existing as a movement… well, you’re wrong. What a marvelous and unprecedented con that would be. Credit people with a little more intelligence than that.

          As for the dictionary – come off it. Just because it focuses on women doesn’t mean it isn’t about equality. Are you going to claim that the NAACP in the US isn’t about equality because it doesn’t include white Americans in its focus? Are gay rights campaigners not pursuing equality, because they don’t focus heterosexuals? Movements pursuing equality address the disadvantaged. That’s how they work. Would it be better if feminists pursued restrictions on the freedoms of men that women have historically not enjoyed? Of course not, nobody would stand for it. Equality movements are about improving the lot of the underprivileged, not dragging everyone else down.

          • ” If you’re claiming that feminists sustain the illusion of patriarchy to continue existing as a movement… well, you’re wrong. What a marvelous and unprecedented con that would be. Credit people with a little more intelligence than that.”

            Not unprecedented, and yes people are that stupid. And not quite. Feminists don’t sustain an illusion of “The Patriarchy”. Feminists have a delusion of “The Patriarchy” to justify not doing the soul searching introspection needed to change an aspect of them self.

            The problem is identifying “The Underprivileged”. Using race or gender as signifier for who is “Oppressed” and who is “Oppressor”, as feminism does, is simply a means to normalize bigotry. A person’s sex is biological. This is not something that can be changed. To identify this immutable as the trait for oppression is to make the oppression, the patriarchy, immutable.

            One simple question. What would “The Matriarchy” look like?

            • But wait, you’re claiming that race is not a trait by which people are oppressed, or that racism is some sort of delusion too? Because race is something ‘immutable’, and consequently the oppression is immutable? I don’t follow your logic, and this smacks of denialism, as does your line about the patriarchy being a delusion. Racism is real. Sexism – misogyny, patriarchy, whatever, your mileage may vary – is too, whether or not the basis for it is ‘immutable’ (and this is far from clear). Maybe the world is better than it was, in both cases, but there’s still a long way to go. Immutability is a hell of a term to throw here. It’s really this simple: discrimination against people on account of their race, sex, whatever characteristic you choose to name, it’s not immutable and it can change. It does change. To an extent, it has changed. But denying that the discrimination exists does not help that.

              What would The Matriarchy look like? I couldn’t say for certain, but my guess is that it wouldn’t be a world where women fear to travel alone or after dark. Maybe men would. Perhaps men’s reproductive health would be discussed by a majority of women. The majority of all politicians and business leaders would be women. Men paid less for the same jobs, and are often still – despite half a century of progress – limited in their employment options by the possibility that they might have children. In a later, more enlightened time, perhaps there would be a masculist movement seeking to redress the balance, and it would almost certainly attract detractors claiming that the discrimination it seeks to address is a delusion, non-existent. This feels uncomfortably like a mirror image.

              • On Matriarchy, what you are describing is a mirror image. You are answering “What would the Patriarchy look like if populated by women” This is not what a Matriarchy would look like.

                On racism vs sexism. There are interdependent gender roles for both men and women. There are not racial roles for whites and blacks, these non-existant roles are not interdependent. This makes race and gender radically different when talking about differences.

                Even with this, yes talking about racial differences in terms of racial oppression makes the problem immutable. If the conversation must be about oppression of the underprivileged, The “oppressors” must be a transient group or you are validating bigotry against that group. If both race and gender debates where based upon classism, this would be a working thing. Obama, the most powerful person in the world, is not oppressed because black. The very nearly exclusively white populations of Appalachia (the poorest region in the US) are not oppressors because of white. The poor are oppressed and the rich are oppressors. Poor and rich are transient, mutable states. The rich can become poor, the poor can become rich. Blacks can’t become white, men can’t become women.

                (note: both racism and sexism are problems. I have a big problem with Feminism and not NAACP. Feminists have been much more successful with much shorter to go than NAACP. In about 2000 the scales tipped in gender relations with women gaining the upper hand, Racial equality has not yet reached this point, and doesn’t look like it will any time soon.

                By identifying the gender problems as “The Patriarchy” and “Male Privilege” Feminism has blinded feminists to this tipping point. Shy of eradicating males and masculinity, there will always be gender differences that can be pointed at to support claims of “Male Privilege” and “The Patriarchy”

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