There’s a shift that happens, when you first out yourself as a “feminist” to those around you.
When it’s realised by friends and family that you really were serious when you went off on that rant about what Donald Trump’s presidency really means for equality, and really did mean it when you reprimanded them for suggesting that a victim of sexual assault might have been “asking for it” because of what they were wearing, that you really do passionately believe that societal injustices and the problems that they create are worthy of more than just wearing a “girl power” t-shirt, things change, noticeably. Or they did for me at least.
My friends and family, whilst not being deliberately sexist (for the most part), are, like many, comfortable residents of the patriarchy. Confused by this “political correctness” so many of us feminist-types are so fond of, they can’t help themselves but to roll their eyes when they read that actresses are now asking to be known as actors. They joke that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, whilst they sip their beers in the living room. They’ll slap a bum and then indignantly defend themselves: “it’s not harassment, it’s a compliment!!!!”
They’re not bad people. they’ve just been taught bad behaviour. And then they’ve been indulged in it. Whether they know it or not, they are enemies of progress, and as such, they drive me mad. So mad in fact, that there are now conversations that I simply do not want to have anymore.
I’ve always been passionate. I’ve actually always been fairly argumentative. Uneasy letting injustice pass me by without question, I would volunteer myself as tribute over and over again, righting perceived wrongs with boundless enthusiasm. I knew what I stood for and I was prepared to fight for it. Until, that is, I realised that the conversations I was having, were conversations that I’d had before, and would have again (and again and again). They were conversations that weren’t serving to benefit me, or even my “agenda”, because the people that I was having them with, more often than not, weren’t really listening to what I had to say anyway. Most people, when they embark on one of these debates, don’t really want their minds changing, and subsequently, they don’t make for very interesting debate partners. (I’ve written before about how best to debate the issues that make you want to cry, if this is something that you’re struggling with).
And yet, my role as the token feminist means that these are conversations that I have to have. Even as I’m able to bite my tongue at remarks that don’t sit well with me, or resist the temptation to point out that as a man you are more likely to be raped than you are to be falsely accused of it (okay, fine, I can never resist pointing that out), I hold a certain allure; as an out-the-closet feminist I am the ultimate fight; if ever there was an opportunity to mansplain your way to victory, beating me in a debate is a sure fire way and as a result, I am often on the receiving end of the “BUT DON’T YOU AGREE” statement-questions put to me by Piers-Morgan-wannabes who want their egos stroking and privilege protecting.
Every group has a token feminist. And every token feminist has a part to play.
We’re wheeled out with the cheese board to provide a spattering of slightly bitter, but enjoyable nonetheless, opinion. Like a well thumbed book we recite practised versus from the dog-eared pages, willingly or not allowing ourselves to be part of the charade, partners in a well practised game of ping pong that neither side will win. I’m antagonised, egged on as the same three buttons are pushed again and again and I react, oh so predictably, rising to it, playing the part they want me to play.
My opinions are called for in conversations happening at the other end of the table, conversations I have no context to or understanding of, but like a google search done to prove a point, I’m called to the witness stand to provide reinforcement, and I do it every time, I can’t help myself.
As my feminism grew and my knowledge became more expansive, the resentment that I started to feel towards a lot of these scenarios became palpable and I feel myself becoming the bitter feminist they want me to be. Worsened still by my decision to stop drinking about six months ago, I now find myself unable to drunkenly banter with my opponents conceding freely and joyously, replying with mock outrage or gentle anger. My tolerance wears thin faster as I feel the familiar feelings creeping in. My ability to let things slide, to breathe through the frustration, to sit back on my laurels and resign myself to a difference in opinion is not what it once was, and, like an aged comedian playing to an empty bar, I recite my script, careful not to let anyone know just how much I care, lest my vulnerability loses me my audience.
Apathy creeps in and replaces the bitter resentment I feel and I find myself hoping against all hope that the eye rolls escaping me are perceived as the friendly banter I once meant it to be and not, as it now is, evidence of the frustrated exhaustion I feel at the part I play.
I love being the token feminist, can you tell? Dress me up in a pink sloganed-tee and I’m ready for a bare knuckle fight with pillars of the patriarchy. Christoper Chope, you up for it hun?
My feminism is constantly evolving and brilliantly and annoyingly, I’m finding that the more I know, the less I will take. Always passionate but rarely stupid, when my feminism was restricted to the small areas in which inequality affected me, I would debate within the perimeter of my life. Write what you know, right? As the conversations expanded to transcend class and race, I would back out, unwilling to sound ignorant, or say the wrong thing. I wasn’t always the best feminist, I was blind to so many injustices and revelling in my own privilege, I would stick to my manuscript, furthering my own cause and neglecting other, more glaring ones. Whilst I’m not proud of that, I don’t feel too guilty either; I’ve subsequently decided to do better and am now, I hope, better able to further the cause, using my privilege for good. I am learning, constantly, and finding myself more emotionally invested in feminism in a way I didn’t know I could be when I first found it and was a bit bored of being labelled as bossy.
But as I learn more, and as I try to better understand societies’ overwhelming gender bias, it doesn’t make me want to be a token feminist. It makes me want to be a very small voice in a sea of feminists. Preferably I’d be able to mime the words as those with significantly better voices picked up my slack. Such are the injustices I am learning about that the weight of responsibility I feel when having conversations with, for lack of a better word, idiots, I just want to cry, and call someone far more knowledgeable and more qualified to fight the fight for me.
Where I used to find a modicum of entertainment in debating feminist issues, personifying what I thought girl power to be and disregarding morons and their moronic observations, I am unable now to derive any pleasure from it. Women are dying as a result of inequality, meant too are falling victim to toxic masculinity born out of this idea that they must be the stronger sex and here I am, my token feminism meaning that I’m rolled out to offer my two pence on the situation in a quick slot as the after dinner entertainment, only for my impassioned pleas to be picked apart and dissected in front of me.
Older and wiser women often tell me not to let it get to me. Patronising mansplainers will tell me that I’m too invested…. or too emotional, normally.
But this is what feminism looks like to me now. This is how it feels. It is becoming all-encompassing. it is a very big part of who I am and what I want.
Whereas it used to be a small part of my character, truthfully something that I thought made me a bit interesting, and gave me the right to wear the t-shirts emblazoned with the word, it is now something so much bigger. And it is not easy to make something so political and so important, such a fundamental part of my character. Least of all because the issue is, in so many ways, still so incredibly deceive. My very being is now a point of contention for a lot of people and I watch them change in behaviour, noticeably, when in my presence.
Harder still is how my own perception changes of those around me; people I love and adore and respect for so much can hold an opinion on something and before I know it the image I’ve spent years curating of them crumbles before my eyes. The love doesn’t leave, but the respect does. And that’s hard. To stop respecting someone you love for an opinion that they hold on something that in so many ways doesn’t even affect you, it’s difficult. And confusing. And you wonder a lot if any of it is even worth it.
Because existing alongside my feminism is the knowledge that there is still more to know and more to learn. I’m not a good enough feminist yet. And that’s a pain in the arse, when you’ve dedicated such a huge part of your existence to the cause.
And yet, as frustrating as it all is, as overwhelming as it all feels, dedicating myself to feminism and signing myself up for a lifetime of playing the role of token feminist, I love it. I’m proud of it. And fundamentally, to my very core I know that as tired as it makes me, as many tears as it evokes, it is something that matters to me on every single level and even if I have to take off my shoe and wallop the next bloke who tells me that “it’s just so unfair that men can’t even pay a girl a compliment anymore!” around the head with it, I will never stop having the conversations that I have had a million times before.