I remember with perfect clarity the moment when my life changed. My junior year of college. A gray October day, clouds gathering for rain. The last moments of class. I was nineteen years old. She asked us how many of us were feminists. Raise your hand. Nobody in the entire class. A dozen boys and a dozen girls. No hand raised. Pathetic, she said, a word full of surprise and hurt.
I wanted to speak up, wanted to jump up on my chair and shout out that I was one, I believed. Why did I keep my hand down? Easier to stay silent, not to presume. Easier to side with the crowd. I overheard all the excuses while we walked out the door, from the girls, of course. The boy did not deign to make excuses; it was all beneath them. I didn’t talk to anybody. I couldn’t. There was nothing I could say. Why hadn’t I spoken? I wandered the campus for hours, sat on the shore of the pond and felt a sprinkling rain against my face.
It is so easy to stay silent.
What is a feminist, anyway, but a nuisance? One who will not go along, will not accept, will not tolerate. A feminist stands out. I was so frightened to standing out, of being seen, judged, torn apart, mocked. There is no such thing in this world as a moderate feminist.
Feminism is by definition radical.
Everything changed for me that day. I carry it like a mark of shame, that moment of pointless silence. I’ve always tried to make myself known since that day. I am a feminist. I’ve been mocked for saying that. By strangers, by family, by friends. By men. By women. By children, by the old. By everyone who wants the world to remain in a stupor, remain under the weight of control and submission. By the complacent. I want to live my life in a fury.
Feminism is a word which has acquired some unseemly baggage, I understand that, but one must take care not to confuse the slanders of the ignorant with reality, no matter how loudly they shout it out. The essential truth is this: if you are not a feminist then you are complicit. Complicit to a culture of rape and murder and degradation, complicit to the systems of oppression and shame which are warping and destroying the lives of men and women alike.
That may sound harsh, but it’s a harsh world, and I won’t apologize. Sometimes there is only one right answer.
We are alive
Feminism as a movement is in a pretty unhealthy place right now. Sheer exhaustion, I suppose. We don’t want to fight anymore. We want to take what has been won and let the rest of it be. It is the natural impulse of the human animal to herd, to gather. All gravitating toward the point of least resistance. Nobody wants to fight forever, to struggle against an enemy which seems infinitely mutable and utterly pitiless, an enemy which stands in the skins of our lovers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters and mothers. We are divided against ourselves over and over. Men against women, women against women, men against men.
I want to live in a world where I can love everybody. It’s easy sometimes to pretend that such a world exists.
We are regressing. We’ve stopped fighting the war because we thought that we’d won. Nobody told the other side. They’re attacking, and we’ve blinded ourselves to it. We tell ourselves that it’s only the fringe groups, only the crazies, and we allow ourselves to be degraded. I never wanted to stand out, only to sink down in. Just let me be one of you, one of the hateful people, one of those loved for their submission. Let me be complacent.
I hate to see my idols torn down. I was reading responses to one of my favorite novels the other day – The Female Man by Joanna Russ – and the experience made me feel ill. “Not relevant, a tawdry specter of some distant patriarchal past. Everything is good here, we don’t need this. Just accept, it’s all fine. Man-hater, femi-nazi. A parochial relic. Says nothing for the world today.”
It’s in the nature of children to take credit for the accomplishments of their parents, and to belittle that accomplishment. We see it repeated across the arch of our histories. We have such condescension for our past. Blithely mocking the giant upon whose shoulders we are so precariously balanced. It’s a long fall back down.
I live in fear of the people around me. Dress like me, act like me, think like me, they say. Hatred is easier than understanding. If only there were more people who felt this need for significance, for love. Why is it so hard for us to love each other? The human race is a shambling drooling freak of a thing; it lives only by consuming itself. I think sometimes that it can never be set right. There is no utopia, only an oscillation between points of misery. Greed will never die. The love of hatred will never die. Individual lives make no mark on the great arch of time. It’s a fear which sometimes sounds an awful lot like truth.
I have to believe that it makes a difference when one person speaks up, even if that difference is only felt to the person speaking. I cannot be silent.