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What does it mean to work as a feminist ?

Image : Collage par le groupe d’Artistes Riot Grrls. 

This question, of the feminist work,  is a substantial question which led to me asking myself “how come my feminism is different from my mother’s, my friend’s, my neighbour’s ?’

I wonder what drives me everyday in doing what I do. You know, this urge, this feeling inside yourself that gives you the strength to keep going, to keep speaking up even when most all the ears out there are closed.

We (as feminists)  must think trough this issue : Where is the line between believing the intersectional ways of being a feminist and acting towards gender equality and dignity of marginalized and oppressed groups ?

I perceive an urgency in the need to close the growing division within the feminists movements and beliefs. I noticed – through discussions, debates and hang-outs seshs – that being a feminist is not understood the same way by everybody. This is actually a pretty simple finding that has being made about many social movements. There are different ideas, practices, contradictions that exist and enrich the way feminisms evolve. I don’t see those differences as weakening but if we don’t pay attention the margins can easily expand to the extremes.

The myth of radical feminists who constantly shout and tear their clothes apart in front of the senate is precisely what stops so many people to walk away from the movement. This overly told story has been acting like poison on the smallest advancements since the rise of feminism. Hence the recoil from the masses to take a step toward an active involvement within this area of society.

This reality has been highlighted in a 2015 Washington Post – Keiser survey. [1] Of all the women interrogated, 43% identified as feminists whereas only 23% of men do. When it comes to acting though, the numbers are significantly lower. When asked if they ever expressed their views on women’s right to public officials, 14% of the women answered positively. We could imagine that the rate of self-expression on social media would be much higher, but the proportion of women who do take up this space to talk about those issues rises at 29% of the sample.

This obvious gap deserves to be looked at and dissected deeply because understanding it could lead us to better communication strategies and possibly a bigger involvement from non-activist individuals and communities.

Meanwhile, the different areas in need of action are being examined by fellow professional feminists. Here’s comes my main point : in societies where beliefs and acts do not evolve conjointly and where feminism is still the black sheep of social movements, can we lessen this gap by opening up the book and make our ways of action more accessible?

I have to admit that looking at inactive oppressed people can be frustrating but the empathy factor has to stay on top of my priorities. This idea is currently being discussed within feminist groups as a recommendation emerges : we must insert intersectionality in our ways of thinking the systems, especially when it comes to the dichotomy activist vs non-activist discourse.

This issue relates to the fact that not everyone has to be wholly engaged into changing the ways of the world. Depending on our experiences, cultural and familial backgrounds, racial upbringings and political standpoints, we simply can’t do or say the same things.

My being a privileged white and cis woman, I feel the responsibility to give what I can to this human struggle. In addition to this conviction, I have the energy, will and intellectual and financial resources to do so.

Again, not everyone has them. Which is okay.

Now, there is still a knot that has to be untied : the weird -though understandable- idea that since you are conscious, you have to act. But what does it mean to act ?

The verb ‘to act’ is loud, heavy of meaning. It carries a sense of obligation and guiltiness if not respected. Acting, in a context of social change, is not necessarily associated with activism or militancy. According to this definition, acting consciously requires time, resources, and often, a network. But most of all, it requires the willpower to work on it.

Because feminisms are not sufficiently institutionalized as political leadership, work is more than often underground or unpaid. When professional feminists reach a point where their vision may be intricate in government plans or in a global systemic change, the barriers are numerous and the changes stagnate.

This reality is one of the reasons many people cannot afford to join the fight and give their time to it.

Despite this economic context, we are still a significant amount of folks (many whom are marginalized in their own ways) working on small but accountable changes in our communities. This is one of the entry points to the frontier between being an ally and being a professional feminist.

The choice to professionalize our beliefs towards this ideal can take several forms. Some of us decide to rejoin associations or non-profit groups of many sorts. Others may take the path of journalism to inform and awaken. Some help women and marginalized folks day-to-day by providing them what they need (may it be shelter, food or resources). There are people who research scientifically the oppressive ways of the systems and think about how to solve those issues. Certain individuals work towards getting a professional status where their womanness or differences are recognized and celebrated in order to lead this path for others.

There are so many ways to be a professional feminist.

Those of us who made this choice feel most of the time as if we are driven by a strength bigger than us. Dedicating a professional life to a social issue -whatever it is- is tiring, saddening and maddening at times. But knowing that out there, millions and millions of people are behind us, supporting the work, talking about it, celebrating what we fight for, keep us going.

I can write with almost no doubt that many feminist workers following the path hope to be able to stop an move on one day. Some of us -including me- are idealists and over-the-top optimists.

Throughout this spectrum of actions, we can imagine as many ways of changing as possible.

Professional and unprofessional feminists can absolutely -and necessarily- work together as a team. The bonds are to be tied for the better in order to communicate with each other to reach our common goals.

Naturally, orientations and visions vary depending of everyone’s original position and place in the world. However, anyone can make the choice to act or to observe. Within this choice lies great responsibility and a need of consistency in the discourses and practices, in real life or online. Standing publicly as a feminist person comes with the obligation of thinking before speaking and facing backlash.

This is my thank you to each and everyone of you reading and speaking about feminist issues in your private lives, thinking about what’s happening, looking out your window nourishing the hope of a brighter future. To all of you, thank you.

Alizée Pichot


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