In Kool Kanya’s theme of the month ﹘ Feminist In Progress ﹘ we decode the nitty-gritties of practising feminism laden with imperfections.
Dear Kool Kanya,
There was a time when I’d talk about feminism or express my thoughts on a situation (that were inevitably feminist) uninhibitedly and passionately. But the more I spoke about feminism with the men in my life, the more I’d either be at the receiving end of dangerously sexist arguments or watch their eyes glaze over with boredom.
I’ve been on dates that would start with flirty banter on our slightly differing views and end with us tensely waiting for the bill knowing there wouldn’t be a second date. I’ve seen male friends look at me like I’m being naïve and male colleagues look at each other like ‘here she goes again’ when I bring up a feminist angle to a situation. My father, bless his soul, tries his best, but admits it’s trying because he feels the need to always be “politically correct” with me.
Nowadays, I rarely communicate my feminism with the men in my life. I tamp down the urge to express a feminist thought during conversations with friends or family. If a man makes a sexist remark, I just remove myself from the conversation. I tell myself that I’m sparing myself the irritation and effort of articulating my feminism, but in reality, I think I’m trying to spare them from seeing the fiery feminist in me.
I know that feminism is never exclusive of men, and is actually beneficial for them as well, but most of them don’t seem to understand that.
The need to not alienate the men in my life has come to outweigh the need to be myself, be vocal, or raise awareness about an issue that’s so important to me. But I’m wracked with guilt.
What can I do?
Sincerely, a feminist who has silenced herself
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Dear silenced feminist,
It can be tempting during these times for the solution to simply be either/or – either be silent or alienate away.
But we know from personal experiences that it’s not that simple. Neither is it a healthy or sustainable solution.
Here are a few practices that helped us own our feminism and share it without alienating the other person.
In times when everyone has been exposed to feminist thought through the Internet in one way or another, feminism is not something you need to lecture people on. They already know it exists, and their own personal experiences shape how they interpret and respond to it.
Share your experiences with the men in your life to make them see your side of things. Rather than focussing on arguing or explaining, share your story. Share incidents and examples of things that made you see things the way you see them.
Stories encourage people to listen in a way that facts and opinions, unfortunately, do not. They are shared and passed on. They allow for a connection through conversation, not alienation.
Ask questions rather than fight on the answers
Rather than being preoccupied with having the right comeback or the right answer to defend your stance, focus on asking the right questions.
If a man says something like “I think women don’t make good leaders” and this is a man you still want in your life for whatever reason, instead of jumping into fight mode, try asking him questions first. Why does he think that? What is his reasoning? But what does he think of X personal experience that happened to you? Do his intentions come from a good-ish place? Will he hold on to his reasoning when faced with new facts?
Ask him questions that will hopefully get him to see your side of things without you having to spend too much of your effort. If after your questions you see that he’s unwilling to budge from a starkly un-feminist view, do not feel guilty about alienating him – either by uninhibitedly speaking out or removing yourself from the conversation.
Use your silence to listen
If silence has become a habit﹘ and the way you protect yourself and your mental health now﹘ don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by guilt.
Use your silence to listen to others. What are the men you are trying not to alienate saying? How are the others responding?
Listen to what is being said and unsaid around you. You and your feminism aren’t perfect – we are all, after all, feminists in progress. Listen to new thought patterns. Reflect on new perspectives. Listen to other opinions to pad the holes in your own opinions.
If you’re choosing silence, choose to truly listen, to gain a new understanding of your own feminism.
Express your feminism in other ways
Fighting sexist views and speaking up about your feminist leanings at every turn is not the only way to satisfy the “fiery feminist” in you.
Just because you don’t have it in you to speak about it at the moment, doesn’t mean you don’t practice your feminism.
Support and uplift other women through your actions and words. Articulate your thoughts in writing – could be on an online blog, an online community, or even just your own journal. Exercise your rights. Chase after your needs and desires. Do not let the men you’re trying so hard not to alienate, alienate you from your feminist pursuits and goals.
There are so many ways to be a feminist – none perfect, and none less valid than the other.
Don’t feel guilty about prioritising what is right for you and your well-being at the moment, even if it means being silent, listening, asking questions, or maybe losing a few connections along the way. Ultimately, you’ll come out a stronger and more assured feminist on the other side anyway.
Love, Kool Kanya
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