Why Being a Feminist Takes Guts
There are some jobs in life that require you to stand up to attacks, some of them for a sustained period of time, and master both defensive and offensive strategies to survive. The military comes to mind, as does the police, security forces and government. If you are in one of these positions, you need to brace yourself for attacks either on your person or against your character.Feminists also have to be prepared, all day and every day, for attacks, both physical and emotional. The difference is that people doing the aforementioned jobs get paid and respected, whereas feminists don’t get paid and are rarely valued or respected. They also don’t get taken seriously. For example, a military General’s knowledge of battle strategies is considered superior to the layperson’s knowledge of this subject, but when a feminist states a learned fact, every Tom, Dick and (sometimes) Mary has a more “valid” opinion on the topic (frequently based on a tabloid article they once read or snippets of a TV show they once saw). When the social issues that feminists research, write about and study get brought up in conversation with others, that feminist better be prepared for stubborn, ill-informed views, patronizing comments, eye rolling, derisive laughter or abrupt dismissals. The mindset is that feminism isn’t a “real” job, so it doesn’t deserve respect or recognition.
The truth is, feminism is hard work, and it’s hardcore work. In some ways, it’s more hardcore than being a soldier or a police officer. At least when you’re an officer you get to go home at the end of your shift and forget about the day’s activities. When you’re a feminist, you’re aware of how you’re being condescended to, threatened and misrepresented pretty much ALL the time. When you’re active, you come into conflict with Men’s Rights Activists who declare feminism to be the enemy of all men and source of all their woes; you encounter trolls on your blogs and websites who threaten you with rape and/or murder; you hear disparaging remarks from media icons (like radio hosts) and you even get attacked by other women for challenging gender stereotypes (“Oh but all girls love to wear pink! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a Disney princess!”). When you’re “inactive” you’ll go home, switch on the TV and get bombarded by sexist advertising and stereotypes in nearly every sitcom and program. You’ll notice subtle sexism in virtually everything you read, see and hear. What has been seen cannot be unseen.
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Feminists make it their mission to bring light to important issues that are negatively affecting our society. They expose the horrors of sex-trafficking, modern-day slavery, gender-based violence, extreme misogyny in advertising and media and other confronting and unpleasant things. They challenge an oppressive social system that benefits middle-to-upper class straight, white males while the rest of us suffer varying degrees of prejudice and discrimination. Depending on what country and political system she (or he) lives in, a feminist runs the risk of being locked up, punished or silenced for asserting her rights and stating her views. She does all this because she believes it is important, that it is necessary and that it is right; the same reason is often cited by the police officer, the solider and the politician. The major difference is, despite its proud history (Feminism has started no wars, taken no lives and tortured no one in its struggle for women’s rights), feminism is treated with disdain. The smear campaign started and sustained by the far-right has changed feminism into a dirty word that many young women now reject. So it’s a pretty hard job to do, when few people recognise the value of it, including the very people you’re trying to support. We award soldiers, officers and politicians for the work they do, but most of the work of Australia’s pioneering women goes unnoticed or unreported.
Despite the often severe subject matter these brave women (and some men) deal with, they still manage to express themselves with wit, humour and finesse. (Feminist comedy is some of the most spiriting and hilarious you’ll encounter.) They are open to discussions, dialogue and debate. However, sometimes they get cranky, because when you’re attacked from all sides, nearly all of the time, it can put you in a bad mood.
So next time you feel like telling a feminist that she is overreacting to a sexist remark on the radio, or to a joke based on stereotypes, just remember that she has to deal with this shit day in and day out and that she’s doing a thankless job in a hostile environment. That takes guts, and a little recognition of this fact can go a long way towards reinvigorating a weary soldier.
By: Tessa Barratt.
First published August 2013 on DiscordiaZine.