Feminism has ruined a lot of stuff for me.
There was a time when I could watch a movie, walk down the street, attend an event, listen to music, tune into the news, etc., without being accosted by society’s pervasive sexism. It was there, I just didn’t see it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad my eyes aren’t closed any more. But every now and then I wish I could turn it off. I just want to get through one day without seeing/hearing/reading/experiencing something awful. Is that really too much to ask?
Turns out, yes. Or so it would seem. And since it doesn’t seem to be possible, I occasionally wish I could take a day off and go back to being completely unaware.
Of course, that’s not possible either. Someone I interviewed for this piece I wrote while I was still at uni likened discovering feminism to Neo choosing to take the red pill in the Matrix. Once you’ve realised the sexism surrounding you, you can’t unrealise it, however depressing it is.
Being able to identify inequality is an important first step to moving towards change. But sometimes it all gets to be too much, and I need to take a day away from the media and people. A day where I stay home and crochet and maybe rewatch a movie I know passes the Bechdel test and fills me with inspiration instead of with despair.
And if I’m lucky, I won’t be interrupted by a neighbour yelling at a door-to-door saleswoman that she’s a slut. If I’m lucky.
As Shannon Drury puts it in this 2012 article about feminist mental health: “The work of feminism, whether in action or in our own minds, is exhausting. Being aware of oppression is a painful state.”
She goes on to make the Matrix analogy and to point out that “feminism confronts the horrors of rape, sexual assault and abuse, domestic and dating violence and other REALLY REALLY AWFUL THINGS that over time become re-traumatizing”.
I often wonder how activists like Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, cope with being inundated with hideous stories of violence and oppression day after day, when some days I can hardly handle reading my Twitter stream. She and those like her are stronger than I.
But regardless of how depressing it all is, I wouldn’t go back to being in the dark for anything. It might be more comfortable to shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and pretend everything is fine just as it is, but that’s not the way things improve.
Can you imagine where we’d be now if all the women who fought so hard for the rights we have today had been like: ‘This sexism is a real downer. Let’s just pretend it’s not happening.’ Really, the fact that so many disheartening things happen every day is reason to work even harder to do something about it.
But a break to watch The Heat again every now and then couldn’t hurt.