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And then, suddenly, you became “the feminist”

And then, suddenly, you became “the feminist”

di Margherita Ferrari

Puoi leggerlo in italiano qui.

You would have never guessed, but in the end it happened. You became “the feminist” of the group. In every group. The way you claimed back this role was so natural it caused surprise and disgust in several people convinced that no one could be so self-destructive to do it. Flocks of women of all ages told you they fully supported gender equality, but they all said they weren’t comfortable with the word “feminist”. Some of them told you: “Supporting gender equality is different than being a feminist”. And you answered, as always, saying that there’s not just one way to be a feminist.

You became “the feminist” of the group, in every single group, the moment you freed yourself from shame. The shame they try to force on whoever chooses this word for themselves. You realised that your self-identification, the obvious political and ideological position from which you spoke, was nothing but a filter, a litmus paper. A quick and effective way to pick out of the crowd the people you can have a nice, stimulating, problematic conversation with, and those that drive you up the wall.

You became “the feminist” of the group, in every single group, because your activism isn’t just about meaningful silences in response to sexist, homophobic, transphobic and racist jokes. This was your strategy, once, but then you figured that it just wasn’t enough. You started raising your voice, because you couldn’t stand it anymore. You just couldn’t tolerate to witness always the same old pathetic scenes in which privileged people tried to make themselves look good by being politically incorrect, by using the most sleazy irony on the irony of irony, which coming from certain people is pure shallowness.

At one point, people you barely knew started coming to you asking the Big Questions. “Someone told me you were a feminist. So you hate men, right?”. Or: the morning of the live interview for the university radio station, the comments that appeared on Facebook said things like “there’s a feminist on the show? If I had known, I would have come and talked some sense into her”. Their words were full of the presumption that they were the ones who could make you change your mind: just a hard slap on the face, because it must be done quickly, there’s no time to waste. A few words and you’d realise that what you thought was important, fundamental even, is actually nothing but a mere trifle, a rhetorical device. And these are people who never even thought about the problems you try to bring up all the time, because those are the rules of the environment in which you exist, and many times you wish you could ignore them as well.

After a while you started feeling the loneliness of what seemed, in many occasions, like an unfair fight against an army of the deaf, because your community and your feminism are located and scattered far away from you. They are pictures hung on the wall of your room, they are long conversations by email with friends you barely met once or twice, they are ambiguity made tangible and worn on yourself, used to communicate without having to open your mouth.

You discovered yourself to be floating, eager to give different answers from the polite and well-argumented ones you already knew by heart, but the problems brought up are few and always the same. “Abortion is murder”, “That girl is a slut”, “Someone so fat/ugly/unpleasant should have the decency to stay at home and not ruin the view with their presence”.
You may have asked yourself: “Why do these people think they’re so original while they tell me things I might have heard a hundred times already? Could it be they just don’t get it?”. “How do I wipe that evil smirk off their faces without using a Swiss knife?”

It becomes pretty hard not to absorb the remarks and snarky comments about your looks, those pathetic rhetorical challenges that, in a supposedly harmless way, should make you feel ashamed and finally lead you back to “normal”.
Men who feel entitled to waste your time trying to tell you what they think of you, because their opinion is so important. So fundamentally important. So absolute.
Women who worry about your future. Women who give you make-up as present saying “use make-up!”. And you’re even supposed to be grateful for that.
Women who look at you suspiciously because you use too much make-up, because you don’t know where to stop. Women who shame other women because “If they can’t put make-up on properly, then they shouldn’t do it at all”.

How to live with the anger that these calls to order wake up in you? How to keep doing your part, answering politely, hiding the rage you feel building up inside? How to reach a compromise between preserving your mental health and getting your message through?

I have no crystal clear answer. What I do have is my anger and the way I lose myself into the things that really matter to me. I have my sense of belonging and the gratitude I feel for the human beings who see in me, first of all, another human being. The same people who know that my feminism is bright and open to possibilities. I have my anger and the moments I chose to express it raising my voice, not caring what they would think, because in their eyes I was nothing else but a flat card-board figure, just a stubborn girl.
I have the feeling of liberation I felt when I stopped worrying about passing for the “angry feminist”, because, after all, I am a girl who’s a feminist and gets angry pretty often. Especially when I ask to be left alone and instead I find myself harassed by pathetic delegates of the Patriarchy willing to bring me back to the path of righteousness.

I have my moments as a fugitive, when I surround myself with thoughts, people – both those near and far from me – and things that allow me to feel good. Sometimes they’re even able to make me forget why I needed to leave that public place to put myself back together.

I have my activism, my writings and the incredible people I met after I found the courage to expose myself to the bone.
I have my activism, my writings and the difficult quest for balance between opening myself to those who see me as hostile and the need for self-preservation, because sacrificing myself, answering politely at every outrage, every painful remark, I would end up just a bitter creature and even my activism would die out.

As an incredible and wise person named Beth Ditto once said:

Don’t hang out with people who don’t love you. Don’t try to impress people who aren’t worth it. Don’t try to win people over who aren’t worth it. Focus on yourself, and focus on the people who are really awesome and who love you. Don’t hang out with people who make you feel like shit. Don’t spend your energy on them. There is so much pressure to be part of the right thing: well, you should create the right thing. If you don’t see it, create it. If you don’t see what you want, be the change you want to see.”

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