This confusion sucks up a lot of mental energy

Sometimes being a feminist is a strain, because there is reality and then there is feminism and there can be a quarrel between them.

Michelle Goldberg points out the trap this can lead to.

Because sexism is so interwoven with how we live our lives, it sometimes feels like the transformation of our personal lives is demanded by feminism. This is extremely exhausting, leading to a neurotic level of analysis and justification of our own preferences, motives and interpersonal relationships. Two kinds of personal essays, repeated with nearly infinite variations, manifest this neurosis. One is confessional: I’m a feminist, but I enjoy X, in which X is some traditionally female thing like not working, wearing makeup, being submissive in bed, or doing all the housework. The other is tautological: don’t judge me for doing this traditionally female thing, because it makes me, a feminist, feel good, and thus must be more feminist than it appears.

We live in the real world; sometimes doing the feminist thing is too damn much work, so we don’t. That’s life.

Often doing the conventional thing is the path of least resistance. (That’s why it’s the conventional thing.) It is not easy—it might be impossible — to live a productive life while bucking social expectations at every turn. It’s too bad that so many young women have gotten the idea that feminism expects them to.

Or even that feminism expects them to apologize for failing to. (I expect that, but that’s not feminism, it’s just me. I’m a shithead.)

This confusion sucks up a lot of mental energy, leading to guilt and defensiveness. It turns feminism—the demand that women be recognized as full, equal human beings, legally and socially—from something libratory into another thing for women to feel like they’re failing at. It becomes, ironically, a source of gender inequality, since men, by and large, don’t spend so much time second-guessing their romantic decisions and aesthetic preferences. Changing your name is not a feminist act. You have not betrayed feminism if you change your name. The same is true for staying home with your kids, wearing high heels, or getting Botox. Women live in a sexist system, and contort themselves to negotiate it, picking from a menu of mostly bad options and then hating themselves for choosing wrong. The problem is the system, not the women. That’s what the personal is political is supposed to mean.

I feel better about these pink socks I’m wearing now.

12 Responses to “This confusion sucks up a lot of mental energy”