“You’re a completely different person now than you were three years ago.”
She’s right. My roommate said this to me tonight when I asked her about what my relatively new interest in feminism has meant for her and our roommate-ship. “Interest” is maybe not the right word – maybe “intertwined identity with” would be more accurate. At some point over the last three years I went from being completely oblivious to the oppression of women to being distressed that I had been participating in upholding harmful norms because of this ignorance. When my eyes were open to it – really opened – I couldn’t believe that it had taken me twenty years on this earth to see it. I started to notice a seemingly limitless number of micro interactions in my every day life that were subtly reinforcing sexism. Armed with the words to articulate and share what had been exciting revelations for me, I set out to engage in activism in any way I could. As many social justice activists have done, I found it logical to start with my friends and family. Surely they would be equally excited about these revelations, right?
I must say – it’s been a process. And while I by no means plan to stay completely silent, I am finding myself playing the balancing act of choosing the appropriate time, place, person, and words to share the excitement/outrage/critiques of the world around me.
“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
– Arundhati Roy
Initially I wanted to write about this because I truly feel that my adventure into feminism has had ripple effects in all of my relationships. For better or for worse, my new worldview has become a part of me, and as a result it has become a part of my friends and family’s lives. I have seen first-hand the meaning and impact I have had, but slowly but surely I started to see the toll my calling-out-of-all-things-sexist could have on my relationships. Maybe I didn’t need to go on a mini rant on the sexualization of girls every time Toddlers and Tiaras is on TV? But what does that mean for me in that moment?
The Onion recently posted a (satirical) article titled “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show” to highlight the fact that embracing feminism for a lot of us can transform our days into constant inner conflicts that we can’t simply step away from. Do I question him on what he really meant when he said his ex-girlfriend was “crazy”? Do I insist that the DJ change the song when “Blurred Lines” comes on at a party? Is this the right time and place? Do I know him well enough for me to reach him, and do I, in this precise moment, have the right words to convey what I am trying to say without making him feel antagonized? And do I even have energy to say them? These questions run across a marquee in my head over and over as I scramble to decide which route to take. How many split second decisions can we really make each day before we’re burnt out from the inner conflict?
Earlier this month I heard words that let me breath a sigh of relief. As a part of a closing discussion after a week of feminist discussions and seminars, one of our facilitators said (something along the lines of), “Every day you’ll encounter opportunities for activism. You don’t have to take all of them, but I hope that you’ll take some of them.”
Maybe I – definitely – don’t have it all figured out. I’m truly only in the beginning stages of even trying to develop a “filter”, and I am bound to assert my less-than-perfect opinions at inappropriate times at least a dozen more times. But for now I’ll be taking steps to see how I can reconcile my desire to interrupt the cycle with my hope of meeting people where they are.
How do you all decide when to call out a sexist joke or comment, and when to let it go? Are there times where we should let the comments go for the sake of relationships, or is that exactly where we should be holding our friends and family accountable? Maybe it’s not so black and white, but here’s to figuring it out together.