Would I go back to a time before I was a feminist? If I could choose, would it not be easier not to have realised the extent of women’s oppression, to go back thinking that when I abided by strict gender roles it was purely by “preference”, be it personal, or “natural”? To go back to thinking that boys will be boys, and that the biggest fights for women’s rights were behind us? Would I chose to live in the Matrix, and give up on understanding the systemic oppressions imposed on us by the patriarchy?
It does seem tempting, sometimes, because it is so exhausting, having realised. Seeing gender oppression everywhere. Gender underlines everything, it is the primary characteristic we use to divide people into none existent binary categories, so of course, gender oppression too is everywhere. It is so exhausting to feel like you are constantly fighting. It’s exhausting when you bite your lip at family dinners, because you know you would be the person held accountable for the dispute that ensues from calling someone out on their sexism. It’s exhausting not biting your lip, and calling people out, from your family to your colleagues, friends to lovers. Having to convince people who aren’t listening, because they don’t want to hear.
And it isn’t just exhausting, it is also hurtful because gender oppression is not an abstract concept in the lives of women. It isn’t something it is fun to debate, because it that kind of table tennis, our lives are the ping pong ball. Sexism is real for us. It is why we are sometimes scared to be alone with a man or to walk home at night, why we have faced violence and been treated like objects, it determines our sense of self-worth — always by the value we bring to heterosexual men.
A lot of the time, when I talk about feminism with a man, he will say something along the lines of “Don’t get upset! Don’t take it so personally.” Even if we set aside the implicit sexism — because I’m sure these guys would never tell a person passionately defending another cause, say, climate change or some kind of employment policy, not to “get upset” — even if we look past that, it is ridiculous being told not to take something personally when the patriarchy affects the most personal things about you on a daily basis. It controls your vagina, how you have sex, how you get treated by people you have sex with, how you see yourself, what you eat… it affects everything. It is fucking personal.
And when you can’t take anymore, there is always more to fight. Always another person saying something you don’t want to let slide.
I wouldn’t choose not to know, though. I’m privileged. I’m not one of those who has suffered the most so if there is a fight to be fought I would like to fight it, for the sake of those who can’t, with the hopes of helping them to eventually fray a path through the problematic thicket to make their own voices heard.
I wouldn’t choose not to be a feminist.
But the fight comes at a cost, and feminists are the ones that have to pay for it, with their time and effort, and with their well-being, with their minds. There is a special kind of burnout you get from fighting, feeling, caring this much. From the marches and the debates, from fighting people every step of the way.
Sometimes reading leaves me winded. When women take to the page to express the things they have been through. Sometimes writing about things leaves me winded, too. It makes me feel like I have vomited out my entire insides. My boyfriend asks me sometimes why I still write about this stuff. “It hurts you.” He says. “Write about something different for a while.” But I need to write about this crap. I can’t stop, just like I can’t stop caring, because writing is fighting back. That’s what many people don’t understand. They act like your writing is whining, when really it is fighting back.
But there are times when I feel like I can’t take it anymore, like feminist burnout will take over. It’s what makes it important to have a bubble — a group of people where you know you are safe from sexist BS. When I am amongst my feminist friends, I get to forget for a while that everyone isn’t like that. I am madly in love with my bubble. It’s also so important to leave time for self-care, something which isn’t always easy for activists.
But self-care in itself is an act of resistance.