‘Feminists just want to be offended.’ How many times have you heard that, or some variation of it? I know I’ve heard it a lot when someone brings up the polarizing issue of sexism pertaining to something. I’ve heard it in social interactions, overheard discussions, and of course, on the internet. This type of comment is without a doubt a silencing tactic, but it also really irks me because it points out an obvious ignorance of feminism and feminists on the part of whoever may be saying it. To me, it’s an indicator that you never take feminism seriously enough to have a real conversation with a feminist, and actually listen to what they have to say.
A little perspective would be nice. I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but it was only when I really got into reading and learning about feminism three years ago that I had my true awakening. To be clear, I love feminism, and I think it has done many great things throughout its history and in my personal life. But, as many other feminists could attest, becoming a feminist usually involves becoming angry with what you see happening in the world.
It’s not about wanting to be offended, trust me, I wish it wasn’t so difficult for me to watch or read something I enjoy and then have something offensive thrown out by an author or an actor. I hate when I watch a comedy and see jokes relying completely on gender roles, like a man is dominated because he took his wife’s last name (I’ve seen this more than once). Sexism is so prevalent that it’s hard to find guilt free, offensive free, entertainment. It can be exhausting.
Yes, it does take the fun out of stuff a lot of the time. Sometimes I cut some slack for people that I feel are sexist, but don’t intend to be. We live in a very sexist world, and we internalize that, even feminists do. But when someone isn’t being ignorant and unintentionally offensive, when someone is being misogynist, that’s when I get pissed off. Really pissed off. My heart will start to pound, my hands will start to shake, I feel myself on the verge of tears of rage. It’s this kind of anger that leads to passionate arguments with others for me. Frequently, nothing I say makes a difference, and I leave more angry than before.
Then there are the times when I’m angry and have no one to confront with it. For instance, watching the news and hearing about girls in the Middle East having acid thrown on them for going to school, or forcing women to cover every part of their bodies so they won’t tempt men. As an American feminist, who do I direct my anger at this injustice to? How do I help? Can I even help? That feeling of helplessness is overwhelming.
Mine is the kind of anger that sits with me, its physical effects waning, but always in the back of my mind, pushing me to get it out of me, to do SOMETHING. I want to turn that anger into action. Protests, marches, signing petitions, spreading the word to those who don’t know about it, are all great options, but they are limited for me. I don’t live in a big city, and have virtually no ability to travel for big protests and marches, and I’m an extremely timid woman and therefore can only manage to talk to some people about the issues I care about. I wanted to write this post for this reason, because it’s doing something.
I think part of the reason I find it difficult to direct my anger in a useful way is because of sexism rearing its ugly head in the form of gender roles. Women aren’t supposed to be angry. Yes, it’s an emotion, but it often goes hand in hand with expectations of aggression and violence. Thus, anger is one of the few, perhaps only, emotions permissible for men by society.
When a woman is angry, her anger is automatically suspect (this can intersect with racism for the angry black woman stereotype). She’s hysterical, on her period, generally lacking logic, and is often considered impolite simply because she’s angry. A woman’s anger is not legitimate. My anger is not legitimate. I’ve seen this in action, when certain people will react to my anger with condescension and amusement because I’m a woman. It’s that type of person I can get nowhere with in an argument, because they refuse to listen.
This is when I feel like giving up. It’s an obstacle in feminism that women aren’t heard a lot of the time that we still work to overcome. I know that I won’t give up, but discouragement is something feminists fight everyday. My anger, in the end, is an asset, a vital piece of the movement we share. I just wish I knew what to do with it in any given situation.