Monday, February 28, 2011

Feminist Grief

I wrote this last November, but it was never published. I thought I'd go back and revisit it. I wrote it because I noticed that people sometimes write off "angry feminists" and so I wrote this as something of an "apology," using that word in the literary sense of a defense.

I am not a grief counselor or claim any sort of professional understanding of grief. My experience with grief is just that of a human's: grief is a normal part of life. There's no way around it: death happens, misfortune happens.

Supposedly there are 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In my experience, denial and bargaining are the most mentally involved: when cognitive dissonance happens, where you try to work through the grief with your brain. Anger and depression are the most physically involved: when you feel your grief in your gut and grief is enacted through your body.

Grief is not a check-off list. You don't wake up in anger, turn to your notepad and check off "denial." Denial might come back later. I've found that I cycle between mental and physical grief, perhaps because it's too hard on mind and body to grieve too long with only one of them. And sometimes after bargaining, I visit anger again. For me, anger is easier than depression; I don't have to confront the real issues in my anger. This past year I read Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenburg, from which I reached the epiphany that my anger comes from a deeper issue: and for myself it is usually pain or fear. Pain from the actions in the past, fear of the future not getting better.

I say all this to answer some questions: Where do the angry feminists come from?

Well, when an angry mommy feminist and an angry daddy feminist love each other very much...

Actually, that's not where angry feminists come from. Angry feminists exist because we have experienced a loss in our worldview and are grieving. We can deny the sexism in our culture for only so long. Then we are hit with pain and fear: and we get angry. Yes, I was angry last week, last month, last year, but sometimes anger comes back because I haven't finished grieving and I need to cycle through it again.

I know there are people out there who dismiss the angry feminism of the 60s, but I think it was an important time for the movement. Feminism had to grieve on a large scale, so it needed to be angry on a large scale. But some of us weren't around for the 60s and we still need to grieve as well. So you feminists who have been around for a while and have worked through your anger, please be patient with us saplings who are going through our own personal 60s. You might be past the anger stage, but grief is something we need to get through on an individual scale as well. We'll get to the acceptance you have reached, though I think in the case of feminism, you never "accept" sexism, just move on to action.

And to those who are tired of listening about feminism and always associate it with angry feminists: until the inequalities are fixed, there will be people who wake up finding that they need to grieve for the state we find ourselves in. Want angry feminists to "just go away"? Then fix the problems so we don't have to grieve anymore. And I mean really fix them. Word service is vain. Actions speak louder than words.

But anyway, that's where angry feminists come from. Now please excuse this bra-less, letter-writing, angry picketing woman. Let her be angry. Her anger isn't an affront to you; it is the current face of her grief. Underneath, she is fearful, fearful that society won't change. And sometimes fearful that the people, society, and church around her actually don't value her and her daughter as much as her husband and son.

17 comments:

  1. Well said! You can't hear it, but I'm applauding here in Wisconsin. ;)

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  2. More applause from me, too! Whenever I hear someone dismiss us as "angry feminists" I want to say, "Of course we're angry. Why aren't you?"

    If you haven't seen it yet, you might be interested in Shakesville community. I say community instead of blog because it is an incredible feminist space whose creator works very hard to make it a safe place for anyone who visits. I found it about 4 yrs ago and it was life transforming for me in how it opened my eyes to feminism. The creator, Melissa McEwen says she isn't angry, she's contemptable.

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  3. Thank you for this. :)

    P.S.
    Bras are a fashion issue and may actually be bad for women. I'm 100% behind going bra-less if someone is comfortable with it.

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  4. Thanks everybody! I'm not actually in an angry place right now- I was when I wrote this in November! Oh the cycles of life!

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  5. This is wonderful! And a way of looking at where we are at in relation to the efforts of the women before us that I hadn't considered before.

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  6. ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! I have never thought of feminism from the perspective of grieving, but you are so right! I experience these stages in dealing with sexism and racism. Thank you so much for pointing out the connection. I have felt like I am in an anger stage, but this explains so much better. Beautiful words! Thanks so much for sharing! =)

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  7. Amen!

    "And to those who are tired of listening about feminism and always associate it with angry feminists: until the inequalities are fixed, there will be people who wake up finding that they need to grieve for the state we find ourselves in. Want angry feminists to "just go away"? Then fix the problems so we don't have to grieve anymore. And I mean really fix them. Word service is vain. Actions speak louder than words."


    "Her anger isn't an affront to you; it is the current face of her grief. Underneath, she is fearful, fearful that society won't change."

    Thank you for summing up exactly how I feel.

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  8. christine11:08 AM

    I'm a long time lurker, and I felt I needed to speak up. Thank you for posting this today. I am in a deep funk, alternating between anger and hopelessness over the recent attacks on woman's rights. It's a very ugly feeling, and I'm not sure what to do to get past this. Glad to know I'm not the only one (even if this was written a few months back).

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  9. Chantilly Patino- I'm glad you liked it! I don't think I've seen you comment before- nice to see you around!


    Christine- Oh, I know. All I can offer you is an exasperated and frustrated sigh. I don't know what to do in that realm either. I am sad for Planned Parenthood and all the people who need them. I just want to cry about their loss of federal funding. I don't have any solutions, but can offer a virtual "I understand."

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  10. HUZZAH! *sets bra on fire*

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  11. This is beautiful and insightful. Thinking of my bundle of angsty emotions as grief is very useful.

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  12. I'm really glad this has helped a few people. I know that reframing anger into a stage of grief has helped me be more patient with myself and has helped me view others in a more merciful light and I get less defensive.

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  13. Susan Galassiraptor4:31 AM

    I love this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you. All the conversations I've ever had with people who've tried to talk me out of my feminist anger only make me more frightened-- that people honestly won't understand how much things need to change, that there is nothing I can do, that my passion is wasted. Which makes me angrier. If you don't mind, I'm going to direct people to this post when that comes up.

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  14. I am literally sitting here with tears running down my face. Happiness at finally having an understanding. I have felt this over and again and could never quite put it into words and you worded it perfectly. The part right at the end about your husband and son having more value than you and your daughter....really resonated with me. Thank you for giving my heart the language it couldn't, and the courage to post it.

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  15. colleen11:05 AM

    i stumbled upon this post at the most unbelievably perfect time. well done.

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