In all ways imaginable, 2017 was one for the books. I need not list the horrors we faced and the battles we fought. Collectively, 2017 was one of our darkest years to date, but it was also an interesting year for me personally.
If I heard about feminism in 2009, picked up the playbook in 2011, and started making moves myself in 2014, then 2017 was the year I started to find my feminist stride. Things got a little easier, my movements weren’t as jerky. There was almost an ease to my self-identification.
Yet, as it happens with all athletes, there were setbacks. I had doubts about my own intellectual abilities, my faith in the movement wavered, and I endured more backlash than I had in previous years. I knew the game a little better, but the game wasn’t easy.
So, as all athletes do before an upcoming season, I am thinking of ways in which I can be a better player.
Here are my resolutions, for my activism, for 2018:
1. Focus on actions over words.
I love words, I colour myself a writer, and in some ways words are actions. Words are powerful. Heck, by the amount of flack I get for some of the words I write, you’d think that my pronouns carry the weight of a punch. But I resolve this year to make sure I spend just as much time doing – marching for causes that are important to me; organizing awareness building and fundraising events for student groups I am involved in or support; donating my time with local organizations; supporting local businesses/women-owned businesses/POC-owned businesses – as I do talking/writing.
2. Engage with different perspectives.
I come from a family with a wide range of political opinions. We have the hippies of the left, and the traditional conservatives of the right. I have grown up listening to, and working to understand, all perspectives. Yet, in today’s political climate, it can feel especially difficult to engage with ‘the other side,’ considering our points of divergence are on issues that directly affect the bodies of immigrants, people of colour, refugees, women, trans folk, indigent people, etc. But I resolve, as I do every year (this is a reoccurring resolution), to the hard work of engaging.
When someone in a classroom says something that I don’t agree with, I won’t tune them out and go back to my computer, I will listen. When someone on my social media shares an article with a concerning title or topic, I won’t call them stupid behind their back, I will read it. When a family member at Sunday dinner or a friend at the park says something upsetting, I won’t walk away, I will have a conversation.
And I will work on my engagement with the understanding that I cannot do so every day. I will accept the limits my body places upon me, and recognize when I need to take a break, walk away, spend a night by myself, or confide in friends. I will work to expand my perspective without compromising self-care.
3. Not be too hard on myself.
It was a day of personal liberation for me when Roxanne Gay’s “Bad Feminist” was published. Feminists are put on a pedestal, and any deviation from perfection leaves us villainized. As a result, it can feel particularly daunting for feminists to know not only that we are seen in a negative light by society, but that one misstep can cause us disproportionate backlash. So when Gay coined the term ‘bad feminist,’ admitting that she herself was not a perfect feminist (because she of course is not a perfect person) it allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. To admit that I consume to misogynistic pop culture and I don’t know enough about the imperialism of India, yet still be able to call myself a feminist, was emancipating.
And although I take solace in knowing that one can be a ‘bad feminist’ and still remain a feminist all the same, I still struggle with admonishing myself when I fall short – feminist or otherwise. When I reference an article in a conversation and someone brings up a perspective that I hadn’t considered or a shortcoming in my own argument, there’s a certain pang that permeates my body; I fold into myself when I know that I have fallen short.
So I resolve to pick myself up and dust myself off when I falter. I will reassuringly rub my own back. Whisper words of encouragement to myself. I make mistakes, many, but I refuse to close up my political shop simply because I am human. I will work, learn and study. I will better myself, but I will never be the best, and I resolve not to be too hard on myself for that.
4. Call out, or walk away from, friends with problematic views/actions.
While recognizing that people make mistakes and no one is ever done their journey of unlearning, I resolve to stand up to my friends who perpetuate bigotry. I will speak with my friends when they uphold problematic beliefs, whether it is through micro aggressions, discriminatory comments or overt oppression. I will engage in a dialogue to try to understand their perspective (see resolution #2) but I will also try to get them to understand my perspective. And I resolve, if I come to realize that this person simply holds problematic views that I cannot change, to walk away.
Because at the end of the day, when we surround ourselves with people who profess discriminatory beliefs, we condone their beliefs. If, day in and day out, they make “rape jokes” or racist micro aggressions and we continue to turn the other cheek, we tell the world that their behaviour isn’t bad enough to warrant any action from us.
5. Keep going.
But perhaps most importantly, I resolve to never let them get me down. The skeptics, haters, the nay-sayers, and the silencers. I learned long ago that being an outspoken feminist was not for the faint of heart - I would be criticized more often than praised. This has been a difficult thing for me to accept. Though I struggle to admit it, I deeply care what others think about me, and this has always been at odds with my identity as a feminist.
But when I think about what makes me ‘unlikeable’ – my strong opinions firmly held – my resolve returns. I remember why I do what I do and why I say what I say. In my case, the price of being ‘likeable’ is far too high. Some may say, “you can keep your politics and still be nice about them,” to which I reply: I always try to be nice. But when my likeability is contingent upon my docility - not so much about what I say but the fact that I say it at all - I accept almost willingly that there will be nay-sayers. And I resolve to not let them get me down.