This time last year I was miffed. I had absolutely had it with people (generally men, but too often women) who claimed that feminism was no longer needed, that western feminists were whiny hysterics who simply refused to see that they had won, that we were wrong to waste our energy on searching for flaws in our own culture when women in other countries had actual problems.
Mostly, though, I was tired.
Because it is draining to have your experience of the world continuously dismissed; to keep noticing new things that make you angry, and then to have it called immaterial; to have gained the tools to describe what is going on, but to have to dispense with them in every discussion; to know that if you are going to change minds you are going to have to start at the absolute beginning and explain some things in very basic ways. And you are going to have to do it again and again. Because not only does communicating the experience mean that you have to demonstrate patterns in events, you also have to tie these patterns to similar patterns, explain how they relate to power, show the consequences of the patterns, the power and the events -- all of these somehow intangible and easily dismissed on their own -- and you have to do it over and over to different people in different contexts.
When I was 18, I revelled in this. I would seek out this sort of debate. Someone was wrong on the internet? I was on it. We would hash it out, and 6000 posts later, I would have refined my arguments and we would have arrived at some sort of understanding. But it kept repeating itself. And then, eventually, I retreated. Occasionally, it would all overflow, and I would get angry enough to shout a bit about it; but mostly I just got tired and stayed silent.
Granted, my "silent" may have been more vocal than most people's, but while I reacted to things, I shied away from debates. I still do, most days. And I self-censored, avoiding anything I thought might be too controversial in order to avoid having to explain and defend. I had to find a way to protect myself, and that was it.
Truth is, though, this is not an altogether good strategy. And while it kept me from spending my time explaining things, I kept getting angry; and anger is draining, too. All the more so when it is an anger you do not have the energy, or are afraid you do not have the energy, to communicate properly.
Two years ago, I tried saying something about this on March 8
. The day itself functioned as an impetus, forcing me to write something. But I was desperately putting the finishing touches to my PhD, and what I wrote seemed deeply inadequate.
Then, a year later, I found myself wanting to do something
. My inner academic pointed out that the only way to show what I was seeing was to document it. And this was no time for close reading: I needed to communicate volume and repetition and patterns. (I do not remember whether I was aware of the Everyday Sexism project
at the time. I think not, though it is interesting to see that same urge to document -- it may have been a zeitgeist thing.)
I think the thing that tipped me over the edge was the awareness, as March 8 neared, that the sudden influx of media attention to women and their position in the world only served to highlight the lack of such attention the rest of the year. I decided to collect what news I came across in the remainder. As it turns out, I chose an interesting year to do this. 2013 has been hailed as the year in which feminism rose again (I said zeitgeist).
I decided to publish (a selection of) precisely those things that I had held back on discussing, whether things that angered me or things I found interesting. I limited myself to the West because that is where the draining discussions would be: Even the most hard-core MRA would agree that the rape of Yemeni child brides, that the gang rapes of Indian women, that punishing Saudi women who want to drive or Afghani girls who want an education are Bad Things. People find it harder to see that which is closer to home and more subtle. I wanted to show that the subtle stops being subtle when it is directed at you over and over again.
I wanted to show that we (all of us) are socialised into certain ways of thinking, taught to think using certain categories, and that these categories are then reinforced by a media that finds it easier to fall back on them than to ask hard questions and companies who think they can make more money reinforcing them than challenging them; that these categories are made invisible, and kept invisible; that they limit women (and others), but that they are also tied up with patterns of violence and how that violence is dealt with.
I may not have succeeded in getting all this across. In fact, I suspect only about four people read the whole thing. But I managed to sort out some things in my own head, and as the year progressed I found myself increasingly impatient with a format that would only let me give a brief mention to each case. I found myself wanting to discuss some things in depth. Hopefully that will keep as this year progresses.
I won't be repeating the project any time soon (in case you were wondering). The toll it takes on my Saturday mornings is quite heavy (let's just say I am not less angry than I was a year ago). But at least now I will have a link to throw at people.
At any rate, here is the complete March 9-7 post