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Feminist Lost

One of the most disheartening things about being a feminist is having to start over and over with the same goals and demands. While it’s true that each recent generation has built on the gains of the previous one, historically, women have been fighting for equality for centuries – even millennia.

This has been covered in my Gender Studies lectures and I know very well the long parade of women who have battled for the most elementary rights against forces much more entrenched than those we’ve faced. Feminism does not begin with the suffragists; of course every century has had a feminist movement because of course women desire freedom and autonomy just as men do.

So it is always discouraging when I experience the same sexism women faced decades ago. I really thought more progress had been made. I used to believe that such a strong basis for feminism had been laid by the various waves of the 20th century – such progressive momentum established that my generation would not face the usual backlash and retrenchment.

But that is my optimism talking and I know better from reading history. The backlash of the 80’s culminated in the Montreal Massacre, and I thought that, combined with men’s responses to it, was as bad as anti-feminism could get in our time. But maybe every working feminist feels that way about her era. And Trump’s victory is every bit as heartbreaking and horrifying as the Massacre. So it’s no wonder that I am feeling discouraged about the men my age who are behaving in an exclusionary way.

Is their behavior unthinking, though? Or deliberate? I have met very few outright misogynists, but many, many sexists. Our culture is both, but individual men are not necessarily either. Feminist separatist communities are hard to sustain, so most feminists I know live with a kind of split or doubled awareness that allows them to keep working for changes to the patriarchy while living with and/or loving individual men, whether brothers or partners or what have you.

As long as those men keep working on themselves, that is; it’s very easy for them to slide (back) into patriarchal privilege. Of course, it’s easy for white, middle-class women to slip into class privilege, so we have to be vigilant and self-aware too. I know it seems an unfair burden: we have to be meticulous ethically as well as working for the greater social good, while other (non-feminist) women get to focus entirely on themselves and their careers. But as HRC said in her brave, post-election speech, “never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

 

I graduated from Queen's University in 2017 with a BA in Gender Studies and English Literature. 
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