“I’m Not a ‘Bad Feminist’, I’m a Human Being”

Given that Anne-Marie Slaughter has chosen to go ahead and publish another piece on work/life balance for women, I thought I’d go back and re-read the first one…and was struck, once again, by something that Slaughter says about feminism and work/life balance as the struggle has manifested itself for women today.  In August, I had published a post called “How Feminism Fails Us” talking about the exact issue I want to return to here: Slaughter argues that feminism makes women feel like failures when they don’t have it all, and this is a real problem with the movement.  In my own piece, I say the following:

I’m not the exception to this.  Not by a long shot.  I started out in the sciences-~-five years ago, if you asked me what I wanted to be, I’d have said I wanted to work in environmental science….There was never a time when I was told that girls couldn’t do it or that I couldn’t because I was a girl; I was told that I was good at science, that I would do well in science.

And I STILL dropped out of the sciences.  But it’s not because I was driven out, and that’s the difference.  I didn’t leave because I couldn’t handle it, or because the competition was too much, or because I was sick of being in a room where I was the only girl, or because people didn’t take me seriously.  Those things NEVER happened.  If there was ever a girl who was socialized to go into the sciences I was probably that girl.  But I am numerically dyslexic, and complicated math frustrated me when you added in time constraints on tests.  I was losing interest, or maybe more accurately I found things I was more interested in-~-social justice, international development, global health.  And so I shifted from the hard sciences to the social sciences.

I bring this up again because this is just one example of how feminism makes it seem like there is this golden star we are trying to earn-~-that we are supposed to be shattering ceilings and breaking down barriers and standing atop the mountains that all the great feminists that have gone before us fought to climb and proudly waving the flag of womandom for all to see.

The thing is, while Slaughter focuses on what this means for women in careers, I don’t think the issue truly stops when we leave the office to go home.  Feminism tells us that there are certain expectations for our lives, and when we feel like we’re not living up to them, we feel that we are, again, failing feminism-~-or better yet, someone TELLS us we are bad feminists.

I realized this when one of my male friends said something to me about how his sister “claimed to be a feminist but she was so hung up on this guy who had dumped her” and it didn’t make sense to him.  I think that’s when I realized that I’ve felt, or have been made to feel, the exact same way-~-like my feelings on relationships are a reflection of my commitment to feminism.

Here’s the thing, though: feminists aren’t robots programmed to just reject all things male or Patriarchy-related.  We’re people.  We are going to feel things-~-sometimes things that make us feel weak-~-and that doesn’t make us “bad feminists”, it makes us human beings.  Falling in love, getting your heart broken, being angry because someone stood you up or let you down…those are reasonable things to feel.  Being upset because someone you love is no longer a part of your life, or a part of your life in the way they once were, isn’t “anti-feminist”.  Being frustrated with a relationship and putting effort into fixing it also isn’t “anti-feminist”.  Those are good things.They’re part of experiencing life, and it would be strange if we tried to cut them out.

For some reason, though, there is always this nagging voice (either in our own heads or coming from the outside) reminding us that we “don’t need a man” and we’re “worth so much more than that”.  And those things are true, in a sense.  I don’t NEED a man to be happy; I can support myself, I have friends, I have hobbies, etc.  But the truth is that relationships do matter, and when people tell us that we don’t, or that they shouldn’t, or a “real feminist wouldn’t care so much about this”, they’re just denying the idea that love is in fact a part of the human experience for a large number of people, and feminists aren’t somehow excluded from that.  We can’t keep devaluing relationships on the basis that we don’t need them as a means for economic advancement or basic survival-~-these relationships ARE important, and we can’t let people use “but feminism!” as a reason for why they aren’t.

There is absolutely a time and a place for “You don’t need a man to be happy”.  It comes when a guy has mistreated you, or when you’ve been single for a while and you need a reminder that hunting for a man is not the key to fixing your life.  And we ARE worth more than requests for sandwiches or guys who cheat on us, and there is a time and a place to be reminded of this as well.  But devaluing the emotional experiences of women on the basis that they’re women BUT allegedly empowered women who thus shouldn’t feel this way…well, to be honest, it just devalues the experiences of women.

And at the end of the day, nothing is more anti-feminist than that.


~ by Randi Saunders on December 4, 2012.

One Response to ““I’m Not a ‘Bad Feminist’, I’m a Human Being””

  1. I completely agree! Throughout the many years of identifying as a feminist, I have felt at different points that I’m not doing something feminist enough or that “real” feminists don’t do certain things or even that I have to think certain ways about everything. I’ve had to come to terms with who I am in the world and how I wear, walk, and live my feminism, but it’s still challenging. In actuality, I think it’s patriarchy that says the movement is rigid and that feminist women will be against you if you do something supposedly against feminism. It call must come from the idea that feminism is bad. Women who act out the demeaning or punishing of other women rather than understanding how patriarchy has power over everyone have also been duped by the system, they just don’t always realize it. I love this post- Thank you!
    -Liza Wolff-Francis, Matrifocal Point

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