As a popular, modified quote (inspired by something E.E. Cummings once said) goes: “The hardest battle you will ever have to fight is between who you are now and who you want to be”. The sentiment expressed in this quote is true in my own experience, and is one of the hardest lessons I have ever had to learn in my life.
According to the rhetoric that I submersed myself in throughout the course of my High School education? In order to achieve any lasting societal change as Women, we had to completely abandon and reject all trappings of the Patriarchy- especially those things traditionally considered feminine domain. That meant rejecting all the Femininity, Domesticity, meekness, and other traits which we were supposedly indoctrinated into since birth. Rejecting those things, however, inherently means the hyper-masculinization in a system which at its core is reliant on a Gender Binary; it meant adopting masculine dress and appearances, and even behaviors such as loudness, rudeness, and so on.
In other words, in order to become Empowered and Liberated Women, the ideology encouraged the de-efeminization of Women. What I did not realize at the time, however, is that this stance inherently breeds internalized Misogyny on such a grand scale as to overshadow the Misogyny encouraged and perpetuated by the Patriarchy we claimed to rally against. Regardless, I dove into it wholeheartedly. I did not wear makeup, do my hair, wear skirts or dresses, or anything which was associated with the Patriarchal oppressed female. Instead I embraced the traditionally masculine ideas of strength and bravery, adopted traditionally masculine behaviors, and wore Men’s clothing as directed and encouraged my my ideals- and I did so for a very long time.
And yet there was the underlying fact that I did actually want to participate in those things which were traditionally gendered as “Feminine” items and behaviors… Not because I had been conditioned to by society to do so, because my parents had always been supportive of any decision I made concerning my body and appearance, lifestyle, and more, and had actively reminded me that I did not have to be Feminine if I did not want to…. But because I genuinely enjoyed it and found personal fulfillment through it.
I had been taught through the particular Radical Feminist ideology that I subscribed to at the time, however, that this was nothing more than brainwashing and indoctrination; that it was shameful and bad to like it, that it was a tool of the Patriarchy meant only to oppress me, and that I wasn’t a good Feminist if I participated. Ergo, I denied those parts of myself and buried them in the back of my mind under layers of rhetoric.
What the conflict between the militant Radical Feminist ideology I subscribed to, and my true self, resulted in was not a driven sense of purpose to exact change in the world in favor of Feminist ideals. Instead it led to the development of self-hatred and self-loathing- as well as internalized misogyny I was unable to recognize until years down the road; it led to an intense internal war that I began to see as impossible to win.
Around the end of the first year of my stint on Tumblr in 2012, though, something clicked inside of me. We often call moments like this “Lightbulb Moments”, but the circumstance I found myself in was more comparable to the bastard offspring of such a Lightbulb Moment and an Existential Crisis in full swing; one of those times where you have a sort of “Aha!” moment and see everything clearly- but in that clarity there lies so many flaws that the good is disproportionately outweighed. Instead of focusing on the ideology itself, however, the result is questioning everything you’ve ever believed in at any given moment of your life (from “why is the sky blue” to “what is the meaning of life”), including the ideologies that triggered it… And it comes on so suddenly that your world is upside down and you have no idea where you stand on anything at all anymore. You just know that it is not on the same side of the fence you had previously occupied.
Sometimes intense instances of questioning will lead you to solidify your beliefs in the ideologies you are challenging. This is one of the reason critical thinking and intense scrutiny of our ideology is something I encourage in others, because it leads to a more solid foundation of belief outside of “so and so said so”. Sometimes, however, such moments completely shatters the beliefs being scrutinized- and in this case for me it made me severely doubt not just the Feminist theory I had drowned myself in, but also everything I had ever believed.
After my own experiences with Radical Feminism, I began to believe that it (or at least the variant that I personally subscribed to) was toxic and ultimately promoted painfully hypocritical, misogynist, harmful, and altogether unhealthy ideologies and mentalities. And while it’s not directly my experience, my thought process and the issues I struggled with can most accurately be summed up by the words of someone else in a far more recent article:
I have the right to be a fluffcake if that’s what I want to be. Why should I let what I wear be dictated by the opinion of strangers? Why obsess over “fixing” core aspects of my personality in order to earn the approval of others rather than simply accepting who I am? Since when did baking become synonymous with drooling idiocy anyway? I believe passionately that feminism is about inclusivity and that as a feminist I have a duty to continue to challenge those easy assumptions we make about people based upon initial impressions. Now more so than ever. – Confessions of a Fluffcake
After these realizations and that sort of lightbulb moment, I been moving away from Radical Feminism. And despite becoming more outwardly aggressive in my ideology at first? Eventually in 2013 I simply did not want to be associated with it anymore. And so I stopped; I stopped identifying as a Radical Feminist, and I began to actively distance myself from the ideologies.
Leaving that sort of militant Radical Feminism was a great thing for me. Even to this day, I still struggle with the ideology, self-loathing, and misogyny that I internalized- but leaving it has ultimately made me a better, less hateful, and more accepting person overall. The biggest change, I think, comes in three parts.
The first part is that I am no longer in an unhealthy environment myself; I am no longer in an environment or relationship rife with mental, emotional, and the rare physical abuse that had me taking my frustration and pain out on others because there was no way to push back at the actual source of it without endangering myself. Instead, I am living in a place that I am happy with, married to a man who treats me well, supports me, and actively encourages me to do better… To be better; someone who calls me on my problems, checks me, and lets me know when I’m regressing.
My Husband hasn’t been the only one, though. The second change is in the support network of friends that I have built around myself as well. I have walked away from some severely unhealthy friendships over the last two years, and cultivated friendships with people I know that I can trust to tell me what’s up when it’s up, without beating about the issue; the same trait that I have prided in myself as a friend to others, but actually found myself sorely lacking in the friends that I possessed within my own circle.
Because of the support system I’ve built myself now- with both my friends and my Husband- the third change has taken affect. I now am more mentally stable, more comfortable and secure in my own skin, and have a better understanding of myself and my own problems. I am unashamed of myself, my interests, and unapologetic of them. I am who I am, and I am oh so very tired of feeling- and being made to feel- badly about that.