Confessions Of An Armchair Feminist
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”
- Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
A great expression that the discipline of anthropology has produced is the term armchair anthropologist. The circumstances due to which it was coined were not as great. Basically, it was a critical term for 19th-century anthropologists who never had studied a culture but sat in their grand armchairs, thoughtfully drew on their pipe, and used information from missionaries, explorers and other problematic colonial figures not only in order to theorize about a particular ethnic group, no no, but about humankind as a whole.
After my last post, I feel the need to tell you: I am a flawed human being - not that I think that wasn't clear in the first place, but just to make sure you know that I am totally aware of it. As such, I am also a flawed feminist, a flawed activist, a flawed environmentalist, a flawed anti-racist, a flawed anti-capitalist, and so on in the lists of -ists. Although I do have considerably more access to the things I write about, I still acknowledge a certain degree of armchairness in my thinking and writing. Why? Because it is much easier to sit by the fireplace, read political books and write idealistic posts, than it is to practice what you preach.
I love badass bitches. I really do. Smart, witty, articulate, sharp-tongued women who stand their ground and don't give a fuck about what people think of them. I wish I was one of them. Because I am not. There are so many moments when I want to act like badass-bitch Me but instead find myself acting like Nice-girl Me. In fact, I sometimes feel like I am trapped in Nice-girl Me, unable to shed my Nice-girl skin and let out badass Me that is screaming from the inside.
I've been in many situations in which I acted like an insecure, awkward, naive girl. Thinking of them, I still feel embarrassed and ashamed. I remember talking to a dermatologist about his job. He explained to me that the majority of dermatologists are female whereas the majority of emergency surgeons are male because (apart from the beauty aspect) women are less capable to work under extreme stress and make life-changing decisions. Another time, I was sitting with a group of young travelers and the guy I was dating at the time spoke about his adventures of hitchhiking throughout West Africa. When one of the present girls shyly pointed out that she wished she could hitchhike around the world the same way guys can, he somehow felt personally attacked and started a ramble about false dichotomies, and how this kind of argumentation was only coward excuses for staying at home. I stayed silent, although I was boiling inside. Or that time when I had dinner with the team from my former job and our boss starts explaining that Africa is so poor because of the bad work ethics down there. Or the time I hitched a ride with a French guy and had to listen to his xenophobic comments about his Arabic neighbors. Or the time.........
I have silently listened to rants dismissing the gender pay gap, quota systems, white privilege, rape culture, feminism per se, and defending all sorts of racist and sexist shit. It is not only elderly, white, conservative men. No, really sweet, interesting, leftist guys AND GIRLS can have totally sexist opinions. But even though they are sweet, interesting, leftist individuals, I often find myself not saying a word to stick up for myself, my gender, my people, my believes. Why not? Because I tend to feel insecure and anxious in unfamiliar social settings and want everyone around me to feel good. Because I am not a dominant speaker so I rarely get to speak in a group discussion, even if I want to. Because a lot of guys (the older, the worse) put on their Don't-lecture-me face, this mixture of patronizing amusement and boredom, that makes the words get stuck in my throat. Because I tend to doubt my position and beliefs, whereas they don't. Because their argumentation is what we all learned growing up, whereas mine is only shared by a small minority. But also because the longer I sit and listen, the angrier I get, slowly filling up with a burning rage that makes it impossible to have a civilized conversation.
But here's the thing: The world is complex, and so are human beings. In books and theory, many things seem so easy, so clear-cut, so logical. But then you get up from your armchair, and you step out into the world, and suddenly, nothing is easy and clear-cut anymore. You meet all these people who may have certain racist or sexist views but who are actually really sweet individuals. You go to your minimum-wage jobs and you meet persons from very different backgrounds who didn't grow up in an intellectual, intact middle-class family, who didn't have the resources to immerse themselves in studying, reading, thinking, educating themselves the way you do; and of course you think you know better and should lecture them on how to be a good human, but do you really?
Although I would argue that a lot of my own problematic behavior is socially acquired, I don't want to suggest that I blame everything on the capitalist patriarchal world I grew up in. Far from it. I am a flawed human being. The fact that I constantly read and think and write about feminism doesn't mean that I am a great feminist. As Roxane Gay writes in her book Bad Feminist: "If I am, indeed, a feminist, I am a rather bad one. I am a mess of contradictions. There are many ways in which I am doing feminism wrong." I love that she, as an accredited feminist writer, says that about herself. Especially because I am sure that compared to me, she is a feminist saint. She says she loves pink and diamonds and weddings. She cares about other people's opinions and doesn't know anything about cars. She fakes orgasms and listens to misogynist rap music.
Well, yeah, I got you Roxane. Apart from the diamonds, I second all of that. I love purple and wear only skirts and dresses, I have a ridiculous obsession with clothes, I live on the income of my boyfriend, I fall for sexist advertisement, I think a lot about babies, I'd rather be late than not put on make-up, I love tall handsome men who fix my computer problems and exchange the fuses in my apartment, I am totally uninterested in maths, physics, technology but love music, languages, and art. But do you know what I also do occasionally? In my mind, I question women's experiences and credibility. I blame victims. I judge fat people. I play down sexual violence. I have racist or transphobic thoughts. I defend white supremacy. I look down on other feminists. I think it's important to admit this in order to show that I am not merely pointing fingers at others but also, and mostly, at myself. I question these problematic thoughts, all the time. I confront myself, try to figure out why they are right there in my head, and then work on dismantling them one by one. And I think that is the most important thing. We don't have to be politically flawless. But we have to strive to be better. All the time. It's painful to look into this imaginary mirror and see an imperfect human being and an extremely imperfect political being. But it's important to look, to look closely, beyond the Doc Martens and the feminist bags and the political drawings and everything else that tries to suggest that I am a good feminist. Because all these internalized things, they sit deep, in a hidden spot, and they are as hard to get rid off as a blood-thirsty parasite. Delving into these dark areas of the own mind, however, can be very insightful. Wandering along these traces leads to interesting places where socialization, culture, identity, politics, experience, knowledge, and emotion meet. It makes me understand how easily people fall into pre-shaped categories of good and bad, and how much work there needs to be done to transform these old patterns of thinking.
So when I sit in my feminist armchair, I know exactly how I am supposed to think, talk, write, behave. How to carry that more consequently into real life situations? Age helps, for sure, because you start caring less about what other people might think of you. Also: reading reading reading more. Practicing in situations in which the opposite is not as intimidating. Deconstructing problematic thoughts with the help of the books you've read. Acknowledging that everything is more complicated in real life than it is in books.
There is obviously a lot of room for improvement. I am not a badass bitch but I hope I'll be one one day. I am working towards it.