Feminist fatigue. I think we all have different names for it, but they all refer to the same phenomenon: being a feminist is exhausting. Physically, mentally, emotionally. And sometimes you deal with it well, and sometimes you don’t and you just feel worn down and tired, and that feeling is what I call “feminist fatigue.” News everyday just indicates things are getting worse, we seem to be backpedaling on major accomplishments social justice movements have made, and people consistently prove just how unbelievably terrible they really are. Sometimes you get good news: Susan G. Komen’s anti-choice vice president Karen Handel resigning, for example, or the appeals court ruling that Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional (wow, shocking).
But, good news aside, right now I’m in a feminist fatigue rut. And, as a women’s studies minor and student activist, feminism isn’t something I can just take a break from. There’s no pause button I can hit, I can’t avoid feminism or the news, I can’t take a week off to catch my breath and decompress. Honestly, it’s not a feeling I know how to deal with well, either. I usually acknowledge to myself that I have feminist fatigue or burnout, and then I push myself to go on, and a few weeks later the fatigue is gone and I feel energized again. During the time I have feminist fatigue (you know how it comes and goes) I try to listen to psych up music (“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill for starters) and seek out good feminist news and remind myself that it is all worth it. It is worth the phases of exhaustion and burnout and sadness (because I think feminism can sometimes feel isolating, even when you have a good community around you, and it can be disheartening) because you’re working towards ending oppression and that is a big, important goal.
So far, this method has been pretty effective. Accept you have fatigue, recognize you can’t do anything and just push yourself harder, eventually it goes away. I’m not sure if it’s going to work this time though. Despite my promises to myself to take this semester easy, since it’s the last of my undergraduate career, I loaded myself up with even more things to do (always of the feminist persuasion), than ever before. Sometimes I feel like my feminist switch is perpetually in the on position. Some days (let’s be real, most days) the only things I feel like I know how to talk about are feminist issues and I talk about feminism constantly. To the point of exhaustion for me, and, I’m sure, for those who have to listen to me.
I’ve seen quite a few posts in the feminist blogosphere recently about self-care. A great post from Abortion Gang asked the pretty fundamental question: why is self-care so difficult? Specifically when you focus on reproductive justice, as I do, the need for self-care can be overwhelming. It can be so hard to be actively, vocally pro-choice sometimes, and especially now, when attacks on major organizations like Planned Parenthood are par for the course, and every single Republican presidential candidate is so extremely anti-choice. The author of the Abortion Gang post makes the great point that activists are busy people. Feminist activists, especially. And we’re busy because we’re working for social justice, and we’re trying to take care of other people, whether they’re our close friends or they’re anonymous women across the United States who deserve free birth control or cheap breast exams from Planned Parenthood (and thank God we got that one sorted out). Caring about others deeply is inherent to activism. So why is it so difficult to translate that care to your own self? Why can’t I justify taking a night off—from the news, from activism, from the internet—to just relax, take a deep breath, and have that pause that I desperately need?
I don’t practice self-care well (something some of my close friends remind me of often). The guilt I feel when I’m not working can be overwhelming sometimes. I feel guilty for TV breaks or reading breaks or even food breaks, sometimes. (Some of this I do blame on Catholic guilt… no matter how un-Catholic you become, the guilt will never ever go away). I just usually try to keep on truckin’ as long as I possibly can, and then when everything is as done as much as it can be, I’ll take a break. But I don’t think this method—pushing myself as much as possible and then only relaxing when it gets near irrational crying time—is very sustainable. For me, and my activist friends who I know do the same thing, this has become unhealthy.
Another author at the Abortion Gang blogged about self-care yesterday, a post which I found while looking for the other AG post I referenced earlier. And this post is one of the first things that has really made me feel relaxed in a while. I find that it’s always gratifying to know other feminists are going through struggles similar to mine, facing exhaustion, a desire to just do nothing, ignore the onslaught of unhappy feminist news and petitions and blog posts. At this point in my life, in this long stage of feminist fatigue, I think it was necessary for me to read someone else’s experiences, and their acknowledgement that taking a break, however long, is not only okay, but an indispensable tool for feminist activists to recharge so we can stay consistently committed to activism and not be resentful of our activist commitments or exhausted while we are doing them.