Activist Burnout

I know this is a cliché, but I’m still going to tell you: working on this blog has been incredibly rewarding. My posts here have sparked conversations with friends and strangers. My perspective has been challenged and I’ve learned a lot by listening to different points of view. Sometimes I get messages about topics and current issues I should cover, and I’ve found that I’ve become much more aware of gender and social justice issues in the news and my daily life. I have a huge stack of books, articles, and objects strewn about my home waiting to make an appearance here. I haven’t been absent for lack of interest or material.

The title of this blog is somewhat of a joke- folks who know me personally know that I generally maintain a quiet and gentle disposition. I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at anyone. The conversations I have, even when they’re heated and passionate, are still rational and don’t involve personal attacks. It’s no secret I’m a feminist, but I don’t think anyone in my personal life would have ever called me an Angry Feminist Killjoy.

But just because I’m gentle doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely angry about the state of social affairs today. When I first started working on this project, I did reading about the role of anger in activism. Anger, I learned, is a great motivator. When we get angry and actively choose to throw aside complacency, we can create change by challenging and dismantling oppressive structures.  When this project was just beginning, one of my advisors warned me that this activist anger can seep into our personal lives, exhausting and depleting our mental and emotional stamina.

I thought I was handling the personal/political/professional crossover perfectly well. For every positive comment and message I receive here, I also get one utterly vitriolic personal attack on my character. You don’t see them show up here, because they’re in clear violation of the House Rules. For the most part, these nasty messages don’t bother me. They’re a good indicator that we need to keep having these discussions. My feelings aren’t hurt when a stranger on the internet calls me a cunt/bitch/whore/slut/etc. It’s another sign that we need to keep doing work in this area. But there’s also this swelling feeling of panic and nausea every time I get a new comment notification. Waiting to see if the new message will garner productive discourse or more personal attacks makes my heart do this really uncomfortable jump. My hands shake a little bit. It’s all very fight or flight. Even though I can brush off the hate and move on with my life… I don’t like that it happens. It’s exhausting and draining to know that there are so many hateful people lurking around.

And then my depression showed up. I’ve had depression for years, and I’ve luckily reached a point where I can manage it rather adroitly- ie: no self-medicating or self-harming, yay! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when it shows up. My depression has this way of showing up out of nowhere, so I go from perfectly content to full existential crisis overnight. Suddenly, looking at the piles of books and articles and objects waiting to be blogged about wasn’t exciting; it was overwhelming.  Every developing news story about injustice made me feel hopeless and heavy. I turned my phone off and slept for something like 20 hours the other day, because moving (not to mention acknowledging the harshness of society) felt like too much to handle.

I’ve held off making this post, because I can only imagine the kind of messages I’ll get, wielding my little hiccups in happiness as veritable proof to invalidate my thoughts.  There’s also the fact that I don’t like talking about my depression with anyone. But as the personal, professional, and political continue to intertwine in my life, and because you’ve all been supportive and generous readers of this site, it only seems fair to be a little vulnerable and provide some kind of explanation.

 One thing I’ve learned about my depression is that it gets much worse when I stop doing the things that make me happy. Unfortunately, I have a way of convincing myself I’m not really happy, and then I abandon things I love. Writing these posts and connecting with all of you really does make me happy (regardless of what my brain chemicals sometimes try to say) so I’m going to stop listening to so much sad indie music and jump back in. Maybe a little more cautiously this time. I think I need to make sure to step away often enough to keep that activist anger from consuming my personal life and pushing me into a giant pit of sadness.

I’ll see you soon. Remember that you can always submit ideas or posts to angryfeministkilljoy@gmail.com. In the meantime, let me know what you do when the personal becoming political becoming professional overwhelms you. How do you avoid activist burnout? 

Advertisements

Education as Activism

There seems to be a trend of really smart and talented young women adamantly denying the importance of feminism and strongly disassociating with the word ‘feminist’. Then, we land ourselves in a Women’s Studies course in college and it seems like our whole world explodes. Suddenly everything makes sense! All our self-hatred, insecurity, fake friendships, and unstable relationships make sense because we finally understand the system we’re operating in. If an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course was required in the same way that First Year Composition is required, I really believe our campuses would be much safer, smarter, progressive places. But what about the folks who don’t want to or aren’t able to attend college? What about the folks who don’t ever find themselves in a Women’s Studies course? What if gender justice education could start earlier?

My primary, middle, and high school experiences would have been infinitely improved if someone had explained the basics of gender roles to me. When we don’t understand how our society functions, it’s hard to understand why things like girl hate and slut shaming are wrong. We’re taught that it’s just the way things are. Girls are jealous, competitive, and hate other girls! Anyone having sex is a depraved slut! This toxic environment (especially pitting young women against each other) hurts all of us and contributes to rape culture. Recent media attention around the Steubenville rape trial and the truly tragic suicides of rape victims who are blamed and harassed clearly showcase the need for education. If you can handle it, do a quick Google search for ‘slut shaming suicides’. It happens all the time. We need to teach other about what victim blaming is and why it happens. We need to learn about sex and especially about consent. Lack of education is literally killing us.

This is why young feminism is so important. Adult feminists spend lots of time talking about politics and laws, and that’s incredible! We need that! But our thoughts, ideas, and life philosophies are profoundly shaped in our youth. It’s hard to make decisions about what you believe in and who you want to be when you’re only given one example, one message, and one way to be. We need to change the dominant narratives that shape our society. Young feminists are in a great position to do that. I think about this constantly, so I was incredibly excited to find an article in The Star about a group of five young women who are bringing gender studies courses to high schools in Ontario.

The Miss G Project for Equity in Education is an awesome, totally inspiring example of activism. Too often, we end up talking about problems and injustices without getting anywhere. Activism is difficult, and progress is often snail-speed. But it’s the vital second step to talking about problems. If we keep telling each other things are bad but don’t do anything to make things good, we won’t get anywhere. When we make a plan and stick with it, even if it takes eight years (!), then we’ll see big things start to happen. Talking is an essential first step, and I don’t mean to belie its importance. This whole blog is a lot more talking than doing, because educating ourselves is an important kind of activism. If we don’t know what’s happening or why it’s happening, we can’t do anything to change it. That’s the premise of The Miss G Project!

I’m so excited that teenagers in Ontario will now have the opportunity to learn about the important role of gender in our lives…and they’ll learn about it in public schools! That’s so cool. That is what I desperately needed when I was a teenager, even if I didn’t know it at the time. What kind of education do you wish you’d had access to growing up? And if you were going to launch an activist campaign today, what would it be?