When I raise my hand in class, some people roll their eyes before I have begun to speak, anticipating what I will say. There are those who, when I express a view, instantly dismiss it by saying they do not want a feminist rant. I have lost the respect of some of my peers for feminism.
People talk about me behind my back, which upsets me. And then some people talk about me to my face, which upsets me even more. I have been hurt, deeply, because I am a feminist.
In the comfort of my own home, I have spent countless hours arguing with my family. Dinners have been ruined, people have walked out, regrettable words have been said and feelings have been hurt. Many memories have been sullied because of my commitment to the movement.
Sometimes I go home, after a particularly difficult day, and just collapse on the couch. Other days I sit on my bed and cry because it all feels like too much to handle. Some days I lose sleep, replaying an incident in my head over and over. I have shed many tears because of feminism.
I have lost friends because I am a feminist. Whether it was because they could not handle that I was “always so political” and “couldn’t take a joke,” or because they had values and beliefs that I couldn’t sweep aside. I have lost friends for this movement.
I have endured very real, tangible consequences for identifying as a feminist.
And one of the most pervasive, constant consequences of being a feminist is being seen as the issue. I am problematic, challenging, difficult. I am a ‘feminist kill joy.’
As Sarah Ahmed has written, feminists (or any advocate/activist) are painted as difficult people. Feminists are often in uneasy situations, and they are too often dubbed the cause of that unease. “There is often a social agreement around causality,” Ahmed says, “if you affect some in a negative way, you become the source of negativity not just for them but for others who agree with them.”
Self-identifying feminists are so often prejudged as difficult, before they even open their mouths. People declare that they are not just trouble makers for those around them, but also make trouble for themselves. Feminists are ‘rabble rousers,’ ‘difficult women,’ and by speaking up they willingly put themselves into tense situations.
And while there is an assumption that I, as a feminist, will be that ‘difficult person’ for no good reason, sometimes I do indeed fulfil that role by pushing back. I say the kinds of things that people expect me to say. In the midst of a conversation I often feel obligated to make a point. There have been so many times when I am out with friends or family and it is such a wonderful afternoon that I don’t want to say something to ruin it, but I just can’t let it slide. So I say whatever needs to be said. I feel guilty for putting a damper on the outing, for making a wonderful day less wonderful. And my friends or family come at me, admonishing me for ‘always condemning what they say,’ for ‘being too nitpicky,’ for ‘making a fuss over nothing.’ It is as though I have created the problem: the movie wasn’t racist or that joke wasn’t perpetuating rape culture until I pointed it out. I am the problem. I am the difficult person and once again I have ruined the perfect afternoon.
Often, my simple acknowledgement of bigotry is seen as harmful. My critique is perceived as an attack on someone’s reputation, a malicious criticism, or an intent to hurt their feelings. And if I use certain words, like ‘sexism’ or ‘racism,’ my comment goes from critique to accusation. The reason why #notallmen is so widespread is because men see the mention of sexism as a personal attack, just as white people are so often offended when someone says the word racism in the same sentence as their name.
This reaction to certain buzzwords creates a ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ scenario, where the comment becomes irrelevant and the person who said it is put on the stand. It is no longer about what prompted the comment, but rather how I could have to audacity to make the comment. My statement is elevated from pointing out that something is discriminatory, to declaring that someone is a bigot.
Not only am I seen as a controversial person who is overly political and hypersensitive, I am also dubbed a confrontational person who attacks the character of others. Word spreads that I am difficult. Perhaps rude, perhaps hateful.
This becomes my reputation. This is the reputation of all feminists. Angry, man hating, overly political, divisive, difficult.
These are the consequences of being a feminist kill joy.
These are the consequences of being a feminist.
These are the consequences of being.