It’s happened again. It happens with predictable regularity.
Famous Feminist says something somebody finds offensive. More and more people find out about this thing that has offended somebody. Eventually the whole thing snowballs to the point that everyone seems to hate the Famous Feminist as if she were Patriarchy and the Tory party personified. Or something equally hideous.
The point is: people get pissed off and they crucify the Famous Feminist.
Some people would say that this is the price of fame. Whatever.
I don’t think it’s healthy. It’s not healthy for our movement and it’s definitely not healthy for “us”.
You know, “us”? The actual feminists who get all worked up about whatever this latest offence is? Yeah. ‘Cuz we have mental health as well, you know.
I want to make a few points about this phenomenon. Some focusing on the “political” aspect, and some on the “personal”.
Point #1: We are living in “Particular Times”.
These are times of great inequality, of a huge gap between the haves and the have nots, of an equally large gap in “power”. We are living in times of great political “extremes”. In Britain, mostly Rightwing extremism.
What does all this mean?
It means, amongst other things, that we are desperate to find a… “hero”. We are all “calling out for a hero”. Who’s “larger than life”. Tu tu tu tu. Aah. Aah. OK, I’m done.
Because society is so polarised between the “somebody’s” and the “nobody’s”, we cling to the idea of a hero. In this case, a Feminist Hero. Ideally a woman who would make no mistakes. Who would be always right. Because that’s how it works: only a super woman who makes no mistakes could save us all and represent us all.
You can probably guess what the problem is. There will never be such a woman. There will never be a Feminist Hero. Feminists are all human, and flawed. Humans can only do so much, understand so much, fight for so much. Experience so much, talk about so much. And a good percentage of all of that will be wrong. Mistakes. Shiz happens.
The problem is not that the Famous Feminist makes a mistake. The problem is our clinging to the idea of a Feminist Hero who will come to save us.
Point #2: Controversy
How do you think “Famous Feminists” get to be “Famous Feminists”? Let me tell you what “I” have tried to be a “Famous Feminist”.
Drawing comics. Learning about neoliberalism. Understanding the link between oppression of women and oppression of nature. Mindfulness.
None of these makes you a Famous Feminist. If they did, *I* would be a Famous Feminist and you would know my name.
There are roughly two ways to become a Famous Feminist: one, write lots and lots for DECADES. This was easier to do in the past because writers actually got paid to write. Which meant that they got read. Sweet.
The shortcut is… CONTROVERSY! And LOTS OF IT. Scream about how some person, ideally someone very famous, is WRONG WRONGITY WRONG about something, based on these VERY SOUND FEMINIST ARGUMENTS.
I’ve been around the block a while and I’m not fooled. Most everything can be made to look “right” or “wrong” with “very sound feminist arguments”. People who have been to University and studied Postmodernism (that’s all they teach nowadays) will be able to do this in their sleep. Writers are particularly good at doing this as well.
I can do it like no other. And I know it’s a curse, not a blessing. (which is why I need mindfulness, but that’s a story for another day).
In short: controversy is the path to fame. This means that there are a lot of Feminists getting very angry on a daily basis while they watch their number of followers go up and the comments on their pieces get more numerous.
I don’t talk about this from a “high and mighty” place. I may not be a Famous Feminist, and it’s true that I never engaged in much controversy.
But I’ve wanted to. Oh, boy, how I wanted to. I have ranted and ranted to Imo about how ALL the Famous Feminists are wrong, and how *I* am right.
Fortunately for me, when I’m “ranting” I can’t write. I physically can’t write. Which is why you have never heard of it.
So when I see other feminists do the whole “Controversy” thing… I know exactly what they are doing and why. Because I wanted to. And I did. Just, you know… in my head.
Point #3: Being a “nobody”
It hurts. Being a “Feminist Nobody” hurts a lot. I should know, because I am one. It hurts when you see someone Famous who knows less than you do. It hurts when you see them making a mistake. Because you are so small and they are so large. We feel they have to be perfect in order to justify their largeness.
It’s as if a part of us says “IF they’re going to be so famous, IF they’re going to be so much better than me, then they damn better be PERFECT!”
And if I catch them making a mistake, that only means that I am betterer than them. Suddenly we feel like screaming “I am betterer than you! I should be as large as you! It’s wrong that I’m so tiny when I get this right and you get it wrong”
Point #4. Stuff, we have it
We, feminists, leftists, activists… we are hurting all over. We bring this “hurt” to the political table and… watch the sparks fly.
This is why I created Widdershins. Because I believe it is essential for us to heal if we want our movement to stand a chance. People who are hurting and fighting each other do not make for very good activists.
Again, I know this because I used to hurt all over. And whenever I approached a feminist debate, I would rant and rage, get angry and hate everyone.
Now I hurt a smidge less. I’m still hurting. But I know that my hurt won’t be healed by bringing it up amongst feminist circles. And this is a huge step forward.
We are not “bad people” because we have unhealed pain. (Actually, there are never any “bad people”). All humans have pain. It’s just that we tend to go into the political arena with open wounds… And I would go so far as to say that we go to the political arena as a way to not have to engage with our hurt, because… it hurts so much.
It’s difficult, I know. But it is possible to heal.
When we’re in pain we make it all about “us”. Because we’re in pain. It’s our internal call to ignore the world for ten seconds and focus on ourselves.
And if we ignore this call and we don’t focus on ourselves? We will carry on hurting.
The Political Answer
It’s not ok for a Famous Feminist to say something that’s offensive to an oppressed group.
It’s not “OK”, but it’s not a big crime.
Yeah, you heard me. At the end of the day a Famous Feminist is just one person. They may seem powerful because they have a lot of followers.
But let’s get a bit… old fashioned (or is that vintage?): Power generally means you can command armies. Or you can impoverish millions with the stroke of a pen.
Famous Feminists usually can do neither. So let’s keep things in perspective.
From a political perspective, we have to keep our heads “cool”. There will never be a Famous Feminist who gets everything right. That’s why we have Movements, not Heroes.
The Famous people are “useful” in the sense that “most of what they say is Feminist and True”.
This remains the case for most Famous Feminists, despite their offences and pecadilloes.
And at the end of the day, Famous Feminists are famous because we make them so. If they’re no longer “mostly Feminist and True”, then we can ignore them.
This political “answer” will probably leave you dissatisfied. My guess is that this is because your reaction to the Famous Feminist’s offence has an emotional component. In other words, this is triggering your “stuff”.
The Personal Answer
As I said above, whenever a Famous Feminist says something that hurts you, you are… hurting.
Our natural Feminist tendency is to jump at her throat and make her feel guilty and ashamed until she cries.
Here’s a bit of “mindfulness” wisdom: it’s not about you. It’s never about you.
If someone says something that hurts you? It’s not about you, it’s about them.
So whenever a Famous Feminist says something that hurts you? It’s about them. Not you.
A much healthier approach than “jumping at the Feminist throat” would be for us to pause and pay attention to our “hurt”.
That’s right. Forget the Famous Feminist. What’s going on in your heart and soul?
- Try to notice what makes you angry and why. Write it down, ideally in very few sentences.
- Then think about how this makes you feel. Yes, anger is a feeling, but there’s probably more. Write down the actual feelings. (it helps if you can find yourself a nice list of feelings, so you can be as specific as possible)
- Then think about your needs. What do you need? What needs of yours are not being met? Self-worth, acceptance, appreciation, safety, respect, support, trust, understanding, peace…
- Then, think about a way you can meet your need. Yup. What can you do to meet your needs?
“Hmmm… I notice that I’m feeling anxious because I need to feel seen, appreciated. Like my experience matters.
How could I meet this need? Well… do I feel that my experience matters? Do I appreciate myself, and what I’ve been through? Oh, hang on… do I go around feeling that my experience actually matters?
Wait… when was the last time I sad down and actually told myself that my experience matters? When did I last allowed myself to feel fully that my history, my pain, my struggle, all of it matters?
This sounds like something I can do.”
I have specifically avoided talking about the details of the current “Famous Feminist Downfall From Grace”. This is because I believe what’s going on is a… “trend”, and I want to address our reaction to the Downfall.
What I would love: As always, your personal experience to the idea of “healing your hurt”.
What I’d rather not have: Specifics about the latest Famous Feminist Downfall. Or why this Famous Feminist is “wrong”.