A SYTYCB entry:
Just yesterday, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote a fantastic piece at Jezebel on what she describes as “rape fatigue” – reaching her own emotional limits on writing about the horribleness that exists in this world. Erin makes herself exceptionally vulnerable in the piece, sharing her own heartache and profound emptiness in response to all of the woman-hating that has seemed especially amplified this week. The response has been overwhelmingly positive; we can all relate to the feelings that she bravely shared, and we’ve found strength and community in her vulnerability.
But what do we do when we’ve reached rape fatigue? What do we do when the conversations around rape and abortion and violence and hatred and invisibility and all around badness just become too big – too big to think about, too big to write about, too big to even handle? You know what I mean. That all encompassing feeling that the sky is falling down, slowly at first, but you JUST KNOW that it will continue to fall because you are the only person in the world who’s holding it up and your muscles are starting to twitch, but then you look up and see that other people are holding it up too and you feel relief and your heart swells with love but then you panic when you see that their muscles are also twitching? Or that dream you have where you’re standing alone on the beach and the ocean is LEAKING and you just have a tiny spoon and you’re trying to catch the water with your spoon and throw it back but of course that won’t work so you panic and look up and there are people having fun on the boardwalk eating funnel cake and standing in line for the ferris wheel and you feel a rush of rage and hopelessness because they don’t even care and you feel so, so alone. You know what I mean. I know you do. But how do we respond to those feelings of fear, rage, hopelessness? How do we act in meaningful ways to prevent those feelings from turning into emptiness?
I’ve had some time to mull this over, and the words of the brilliant Audre Lorde keep coming to mind: “Caring for myself is not self indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We, as women (however you define women), have been socialized to quiet ourselves, to deny our feelings, to act in opposition to our need for self care. We’ve learned that our job is to shut up and support the men around us. We’ve learned to hide the curves of our bodies, to hide the emotion in our voices, to hide what we know inside of us to be true. We’ve learned that we are weak and that our feelings are weak, so of course we have learned to overperform strength – we’ve needed to in order to survive in this patriarchal, silencing world. We’ve adapted by quieting our internal voices, by laughing and declaring ourselves irrational, overly-emotional, illogical. We’ve had to.
But when we can listen to our feelings, when we allow them to tell us what our bodies and hearts know to be true, we will be stronger, smarter, more resilient. Feelings aren’t weaknesses, they’re strengths, and there is profundity in the act of accepting that as truth. When we can listen to our feelings, when we listen to what we know in our bones, we learn how to best care for ourselves, how to best protect ourselves from the hatred that exists in this world. When we share these feelings with others, we find community, and there is strength in that, too.
When we meet our feelings, accept them, engage in dialogue with them, we act radically. When we great our feelings with the same empathy that we dole out so endlessly to others, we begin to redefine the everyday strength that comes from vulnerability. We need to honor our feelings in order to show up to our activism more authentically. Julia Bluhm did just that when she felt so righteously outraged by the airbrushed bodies in Seventeen and trusted her gut to garner enough support from similarly outraged women, which resulted in Seventeen’s changed policies. When women were so outraged on behalf of their bodies, they yelled, and Komen reversed its misguided decision to defund Planned Parenthood.
Look at what power can come from our feelings.
Erin’s voice, and the voices of countless others, highlight what Sady Doyle has already said: this is the time of women’s strength in vulnerability. When we are able to celebrate our feelings as our most important source of power, as Audre Lorde suggests, perhaps our activism will become more meaningful, more effective, and more authentic.