I’d like to say that my feminism “uplifts me”. Or something gushy like that. But, mostly, it doesn’t. It confounds me and depresses me and makes things that used to be simple really, really difficult. Or, rather, it highlights what it is about the world that’s so confounding and depressing and saddles me with the difficult task of addressing those injustices. Of course, I’m glad I found feminism—the ideology and the social justice movement—but I wanted to make the point off the bat: it ain’t easy.
I came to feminism around three years ago. I didn’t understand it innately, the way some women do, but when I had my light-bulb moment I radicalised quickly. Yep, I’m another radfem who thinks prostitution, pornography and striping underpin, and are themselves underpinned by, women’s subordination and degradation. These multi-billion dollar global industries that trade in women’s pain have to be completely dismantled in order for all women to enjoy their full human dignity. The end. We’ll never address men’s structural violence against women if we don’t address these phenomena and their various expressions in the media and culture. The violence I’m taking about is emotional, physical, sexual, economic and political. It’s perpetrated most often in the home—at the hands of intimate male partners. It is the final act on the continuum of contempt for women that we all learn growing up in a culture where women’s lives and bodies are ritually exploited—in prostitution, in porn, in advertising, in fashion and just about anywhere you care to look.
Though these issues depress me almost to the point of paralysis, they are all clear-cut from my perspective and not the source of the internal struggles I have everyday. I’m angsty day-to-day because the personal is political. And that can be hard to reconcile. One week I’ll grow my underarm hair—because I really do believe that our cultural obsession with hair removal is another expression of our hatred of women and detrimental to women’s emotional (and physical) wellbeing. I don’t care how you slice it, claims that it is “empowering” to have one’s pubic hair pulled out from the roots by a perfect stranger in an expensive, painful and otherwise degrading procedure is the absolute propaganda of woman hatred. But, then, I’ll have a party to go to and a sleeveless dress and, when my courage deserts me and I’m standing in front of the mirror with my Gillette Venus, it’s shame that I feel—and that’s not empowering or uplifting, either.
One thing that does uplift me is the love of other women. And woman-loving and sisterhood are feminist acts. The women in my life are absolutely everything to me—they are my emotional and spiritual guides. They understand my experience in some fundamental way that I don’t think the men in my life—the very few of them—ever could. I know my idea of sisterhood seems a bit old-fashioned to the pomo fems and others. But it nonetheless reflects my own experience and this experience is all I can speak from. In the world I live in, the political sex class of women have a shared experience that transcends difference. Your worth and safety are constantly threatened if you’re a women—because you’re a women—and they’re threatened by men. Before the one man who ends up reading this objects: “but I don’t hurt women”, I’ll point out that I’m talking here about men-as-a-group (the political class of “Men” who are the beneficiaries of patriarchy), not about you, personally—so calm down.
Which brings me to my heterosexuality. I’m a woman-loving woman… who loves men. There are radical lesbian feminists who would say that I have been conscripted into Compulsory Heterosexuality by the patriarchy and, when my thinking matures and I love myself properly, I’ll become a lesbian. Maybe that’s true and maybe I will. Maybe that will be the inevitable consequence of my being unable to find any men who understand and accept, fundamentally, the way their privilege and my subordination are inscribed in every relation it’s possible for us to have. But, you know, I have trouble enough finding women who understand and accept this! It’s a journey, and I needed other women to walk with me on it. So I’m going to walk with others on it—be they women or men. I don’t think it’s useful to say: “you don’t get this and I can’t expend my emotional energy helping you to get it, because I have to go save the world with that energy.” Because, really, how are you going to remake the world feminist if you won’t have those painful and fraught light-bulb conversations over and over? And over? Then again, maybe that’s just me being a patriarchy apologist. I don’t know yet, okay?
I’m not going to pretend I have this “sussed”. At all. I’m 24 and I have thinking and reading and talking and organising and “coming to terms with myself” still to do—and I don’t apologise for that. I’ve lived 24 years under male domination and learned self-hatred is really hard to unlearn. But I’m getting there. With feminism as the essential frame through which I interpret this messed up world.
Diana is a communications professional and radical feminist. She is writing her Master’s thesis at the Central European University in Budapest this year around violence against women. When she’s not busting people’s chops about women’s issues, she’s… asleep.