“Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?”

As my writing on this blog can attest, I am a little hot-headed. I get riled up about issues pertaining to social inequalities. I feel things, and strongly. I generally put these feelings to paper — or, in this case, wordpress.

This is also true in my personal relationships. If I’m expounding on, say, the wage gap in the American workplace and my close friend (or boyfriend, or family member) disagrees that there is such a gap, or argues that wage inequality is irrelevant or unimportant, my feathers get ruffled. Justifiably or not, I can’t seem to let these disagreements slide.

I’d like to think I’m open-minded and capable of thinking logically, and even dialectically, about important issues. However, my feelings, experiences and gender studies background generally get in the way of this.

The concept of feminism has always been something I put in the “worth my energy” category. In the past, when someone close to me claimed they weren’t a feminist, that tended to irk the crap out of me. I used to get passionate and make grandiose statements to the tune of “how in the world are we even friends!?”

But then I got older, wiser, and chilled the fuck out a little. I gained the insight that it’s not nearly as important to surround yourself with people who agree with everything you say, value, or believe. A little challenge and some free discourse to sharpen your debating chops: these are good qualities to have in relationships.

So I thought I was over it.

Wrong.

Last night, fueled by some red wine and drowsiness, I single-handedly turned a delightful evening with my new boyfriend into a (briefly) high-stakes situation in which I miiight have bandied around sentences like “if you’re not a feminist, that’s a deal-breaker” and other nonsense.

Don’t worry, readers, it all ends well. I’m not completely without reason and amended the above statement to some degree. However, all today I was left with the mental questions: “Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?” “Why do I care?” “Is it enough that people in my life agree with most of what I believe?” And on.

So I got to thinking — and yes, I’m uncomfortably aware of how much I sound like Carrie-fucking-Bradshaw right now — about some answers to the above questions, given the fact that I’m 23 and I’d like to outgrow my knee-jerk tendency towards outrage.

“Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?”

The answer, truthfully, is no. Would it be ideal? Yes. Is it realistic? Not really. Maybe someday.

Which leads to…

“Why do I care?”

I care because I spend a lot of time feeling like Cassandra from Ancient Greek mythology. I’m a privileged white chick soap-boxing her theories and thoughts to anyone who will listen (read: this blog) and often, no one listens.

After years of explaining why I think sexism is still a pressing issue to women and men alike, I think my “passionate responses” to anyone who isn’t a feminist can be attributed to the following:

A) Frustration. B) Passion. C) An unbending sense of personal integrity. D) The desire to be understood, especially by those closest to me.

I think I can’t really be understood without first understanding feminism. Therein lies my “fear of the non-feminist.” If someone doesn’t understand my struggle — and the struggle of others around the globe due to their sex, gender, class, etc — I think I’m a little terrified of what exactly does go on in that person’s head. Maybe it can be attributed to an overactive imagination, but sometimes I feel this expansive, endless capacity for empathy. I’ve heard others’ stories; I’ve walked a hard path of my own. Knowing what I have been through makes me feel that much more aware that everyone has a unique path they walk. So to live our lives without empathy, without giving validity to others’ stories and feelings, without giving validity to the fact that race and sex and all those other outward indicators of “otherness” do matter, and matter on a scale that we do not give nearly enough credit to — that is what I fear.

So, given the importance feminism holds in my life: “Is it enough that people in my life agree with most of what I believe?”

In the end, I suppose this is what I should be grateful for — that I have people who care about me and support my endeavors in spite of their divergent personal beliefs. In turn, I should be supportive of their endeavors and values and opinions. I can learn from them, just as I hope they will learn to understand the feminism I represent.

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2 thoughts on ““Does everyone in my life need to be a feminist?”

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    By Joan Stark

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