I’ve been thinking about a lot of things quite heavily over the last week, things that I consider very important: activism, feminism, anger, compassion. Trying to incorporate all of those into my life, and sometimes really messing it up.
I’m not sure which bit to start with, so I guess I’ll go with ‘activism’ and ‘feminism’ first, because they’re still the easiest ones to talk about.
Activism has always been important to me. I don’t see the point, for myself, of being able to see things in the world around me that I don’t agree with and not doing something to try to change them. I’ve never been able to just accept the status quo, and I guess that’s what has made me an activist. I’d like to think that it’s actually possible to change the world for the better, and that I can somehow do my bit. And that in a way, I’m obligated to do my bit.
Feminism has been the main outlet for activism over the past few years, because I can see that we live in a patriarchy that still inherently privileges masculinity over femininity and pits men and women as polar opposites, and I think that does a lot of damage. To women, but also to men, though not as strongly. It’s something that makes me angry, and something I think can be changed. There’s no point getting angry about something you can’t change, after all. So I try to be part of that change and to actively bring it about.
But what I really want to talk about in this post is anger, and I don’t think I’ve really posted on it before in depth. Because I see anger as central, as so important, and it’s something that people I talk to sometimes don’t seem to understand well.
Being a feminist for me arises out of anger, because I see how something does damage to someone, or a group of people and I’m not ok with it. I’m angry. For me, it’s that anger that gives me the energy to do something, to speak up, to act instead of just watching. If I don’t, then that anger just sits there and boils away within me, and that’s not how I want to live. I don’t want to be bitter and angry, I want to use my anger to make myself change things.
In feminism, anger in particular is vital, because it underpins the central concept of feminist activism – anger at injustice and action arising from that anger. And it’s essential that we speak up and make ourselves heard, even if we are angry while doing so, because anger is something that has traditionally been denied women (and all other oppressed and marginalised peoples). Expression has only been allowed when it fits into the dominant cultural paradigm that (generally) white, straight, cis men have deemed appropriate. As Tigtog wrote at Hoyden About Town just the other day:
The defenders of the status quo want us to stop speaking out about these inequalities. The defenders of the status quo want us to stop making our anger visible to them, with no concern for what swallowing that anger does to us as we experience those inequalities perpetuated.
We need to get angry, and we need to use that anger to fuel us when we go out and march, or when we blog, or when we speak – wherever and whenever we see something happening that hurts other people – without feeling the need to be nice and polite about it, without needing to appeal to everyone. People often say that no-one will listen to you if you’re angry, as if anger automatically negates anything of worth in what you have to say. But as Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s recent piece in the Guardian argues:
For a long time now, feminists have been told that their message will never spread to the masses if the messenger appears to be an angry man-hating lesbian shouting the odds from a gender studies seminar room. But we need to realise that popular, non-threatening feminism is destined for failure as well… When feminists decide they want to appeal to everybody, what they are really doing is attempting to appeal to men, as culture in a patriarchy is defined by male values and male norms. Feminism that prioritises popularity over its own integrity will necessarily fail.
I agree with O’Hagan completely – and yet, we also need to keep the anger political, even if the activism still needs to be personal as well.
I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but what I mean is this: it’s easy to be angry at someone for something they say that is offensive, or sexist, or racist. But a lot of the time that person is probably just repeating something they’ve seen or heard, something that the dominant system (patriarchy, or capitalism, or heteronormativity) accepts as common use, and that they don’t automatically associate with hurting someone or contributing to a harmful idea. And so compassion comes into the picture, because just attacking that person is not really going to get you anywhere in the scope of activism. If anything, it’s just going to lose you friends.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because there have been instances in the past few months where I’ve forgotten that, and I’ve messed up in my activism. And it has cost me some friends, and a bit of self-respect as well. There have been times where I’ve directed my anger at the person, and not the concept. In some cases I’ve then taken the comments or situations that made me angry and turned them public by blogging about them. I’ve gotten caught up in how something is hurtful to a group of people and not even stopped to think about upsetting the person (or people) I’ve just put up for attack and ridicule.
For that, I want to apologise. It’s never my intention with any of my blogging to attack people personally, or to make them feel upset or hurt, but I realise that I’ve done so in the past with some of the things I’ve posted. I’m sorry.
I’m not going to stop being an activist, or a feminist, or being angry, or calling people out on things, because those things are very important to me, and I still want to do my best to change the world. But I will stand up to the fact that I mess up as an activist and as a feminist too, and I forget that anger isn’t helpful when used to attack people personally. And I’ll try to learn from messing up as best I can, and not make the same mistakes in the future. I think that’s my duty to those whom I’ve upset, and to the world.