Sometimes, being feminist on a day to day basis in your personal life means experiencing backlash from some of the closest people in your life. I call it "the backlash", this possibility of attacks, criticism, and sometimes loss of a relationship, based on the sole fact that women are speaking up, sharing alternative truths to the commonly agreed upon patriarchal ones, and being vocal about a version of the world they would prefer to the current one. I know many of us have experienced it. I also know that I am lucky to not have to fear political and physical violence for what I think or do - I am so very aware that the backlash I experience, as a white woman living in the US, is nothing compared to some of what my sisters and friends all around the world face on a day to day basis. It's important for me to recognize that, because it also gives me strength to put up with what comes my way, knowing that others are experiencing so much more.
So here goes. My beautiful daughter who is ten years old, has been having recurring panic attacks and anxiety. It's heartbreaking to see her go through it, and to feel helpless in making it stop. We are slowly learning how to best help her, and getting help from qualified folks as well. All in all, she remains a happy and healthy girl, but I have been worried as these attacks are becoming more regular and starting to follow a certain pattern. This week end, one of our family friends implied to my husband (I was not there), that there might be a link with my daughters' anxiety and my feminism. Yes, read that again. That maybe, the fact that I was vocal about gender, equality, and different mum/dad roles in the home in front of my children might have led my daughter to be confused. I can't tell you more since that is all that was shared with me. It's absurd, I know. I can't even start explaining how ridiculous this thought is. But I can start explaining how it feels to be on the receiving end.
First of all, as a mother, to be accused of having a direct responsibility in causing harm to your child is intolerable and insulting. Second, as a women, being the sole recipient of an accusation is yet again diminishing and disrespectful (my husband and I are both raising our children with feminist values, yet the accusation was only targeted at me). Third, as a feminist, implying that there is a direct causal relationship between my personal and political beliefs and my children's wellbeing is both disrespectful and dangerous.
I have spent the last 24 hours crying of rage and disbelief. I can rationally tell myself that someone who would think that clearly shouldn't be on our friends list, but there is something more to this that I can't shake off. I feel weakened, attacked, and honestly, vulnerable. Maybe because I see this as the very start of a larger continuum of possibilities connecting accusations against women and their attitudes and beliefs with 'preferred' social outcomes. Maybe because I am tired of the social casualties my feminism has brought into my life (and I don't blame the feminism for it, but it is hard to loose relationships with friends and family members because of it). Maybe also because I feel the pain of our collective backlash also, even in such a minimal event.
I know in a few days I will calm down, find my strength, and move on. I will focus on those in my life that I know respect my beliefs, are willing to have fascinating conversations about this different world that could be, even if they don't necessarily align with all of my feminist values and beliefs. I will focus on my children, because I know I am a good mother raising wonderful children that will grow to have important values and treat others with equality and respect. I will focus on my daughter, helping her get through anxiety in the best way I can. And I will focus on doing my part for our movement, for our fight, for what we know is worth it all (a more equal tomorrow).
But today, I am just soaking in the backlash. In the subtle pushback of a hurtful sentence. Because if I don't, then I am not honoring how it makes me feel. Maybe honoring how it makes me feel will help me develop stronger tools to fight it off next time. But all in all, it's there, and it's not going anywhere. We need to name it and feel it, and then respond to it.