Thursday, September 10, 2009

Toward Becoming Our Own Solutions

The problem of “solutions” is something we touch on in class regularly – how can we “fix” these enormous problems with our social structure? How can we bridge the gap between theoretical conversations and concrete, positive change for our daughters, sons, co-workers, and selves? Can we unite to advance a “feminist agenda” with all our different conceptions of what we want our own feminism to be?

This is a short blog piece I read a while ago that I think is really powerful. I reflect on the sentiment a lot when considering the overwhelming and monumental challenges that we often open in class, but do not have the capacity or resources to satisfactorily unpack and close. The author shares:

For years, even though I considered myself a feminist I maintained relationships (both friendly and romantic) with people whose beliefs and actions conflicted with my feminism. I have a hard time believing that not long ago I dated a guy who never let me drive when we went out together and told me he would dump me if I stopped shaving my legs, another who thought that both same-sex marriage and abortion should be illegal…

While I am a huge proponent of meeting people where they are in terms of ignorance and recognize that I myself still have an infinite amount of room to grow and learn, I realized that it did me more harm than good to continue these relationships. I’m no longer interested in spending time with people who see my feminism as a detriment to my character.

This realization is so intense. For me, it helps answer the omnipresent question "but what can I do?" The idea is not to exclude ourselves from places or situations in which not everyone agrees, but to allow our feminism to be part of the discussion, part of our identity when it comes to forming personal relationships.

Socially, this concept is much harder than it sounds. Discussing “the problems” in a vague and generalized universe is one thing, but taking control of our own contribution? How many social situations have I passively allowed to offend my feminism? How many demeaning jokes about women have I laughed off? How many times have I rolled my eyes or shrugged off a crude comment or tired joke about “femi-nazis” or “bra burners”?

Accepting the categorization “oh she’s a feminist – isn’t that cute?” is not only passive, it’s damaging. It says that the part of myself that’s a feminist is a hobby, not an identity trait. It allows people to demean my beliefs about fundamental equality the way a sensitive person never would about my faith, appearance, or intellect. Trivializing my priorities as a feminist, even in the context of my own social relationships, is something that permits the stagnation of progress.

The truth is that outside the context of academia it is difficult for me to own my feminism – to live it consistently and honestly. Sometimes it just becomes so easy to point fingers and hopelessly rehash the same old complaints. Without asserting our own responsibility for the status quo, we allow it to perpetuate.

To achieve anything as a movement, or simply a group of united human beings, we do not need to agree on every facet of the agenda, but we do need to agree to assume the identity - to defend our feminism as ourselves; to be able to speak out when it is misconstrued or belittled. Perhaps most importantly, to take an active role in being these enormous changes we see as necessary outside the context of our own personal attitudes and limited academic circles. These considerations are ongoing, and something I hope we can come back to and develop over the course of the semester.

Challenging ourselves is hard, but challenging people who are important to us is harder. By engaging ourselves we can start to take the hopelessness out of these insurmountable issues. This is an area where I know I can improve and grow, and I think we’ve all seen what a little motivation and momentum can accomplish.

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