By: Alisha Saxena
Let me start by saying I respect the feminist movement. Even though I didn’t like to call myself a feminist before, mainly because I had issues with how exclusionary and uneducated some self-proclaimed “feminists” were, I realized that I couldn’t exclude myself from the label just because of the few bad cherries in the pack. There was no denying that I resonated with the ideas put forth by postmodern feminism, such as womxn empowerment and the inclusivity of all genders, rather than glorifying gender binarism. Yet, I still feel disconnected with the movement, particularly because there are some glaring, unspoken issues within the social-media driven movement which are not being addressed. Let’s talk about them.
On the social media front, many of the feminists leading the movement, particularly the youth leaders, openly display their self-confidence and assertiveness. That’s great- more power to them. Though I commend them, and would love to emulate similar levels of self-assuredness and confidence, they often lose me in the way they convey their message. They constantly discuss their work and their accomplishments, but they severely skimp on discussing their vulnerabilities and failures. Now, I don’t want to put all of the feminist leaders in a box- I have obviously not seen EVERY feminist on social media, and I’m sure many of them are amazingly self-aware and share their realities openly with their following. Yet, there are many, including those with large followings, who often make their troubles sound forced, fake, and false. And it’s created a major trend which is proving to be, dare I say, toxic.
A mentality has spread that these leaders need to “cure” us of our vulnerable moments and the issues which plague us- as a result, there has been an outpour of advice content flooding our feeds on taking care of our mental health, staying interconnected with our communities, and on finding our inner power (like, what does that even mean?). Yet hardly do I ever see them point the camera at themselves and actually discuss THEIR OWN roadblocks, failures, and doubts that come in the process of completing all their productive work. They share the idea when they think of it, and show the result when it’s finished, polished, and perfected- the gritty process is almost always excluded from the conversation. You may disagree with me on this, but I personally feel that this is a caveat of having a social media movement. Emotional intelligence, through introspection and vulnerability, is crucial to building community; many leaders are completely overlooking it, and are instead falling into the traps which social media presents. Now, I understand that some may be purposefully avoiding it, because emotions are difficult, and even triggering, to discuss, and that’s okay- I am not demanding every activist to ignore their discomfort and open up to their following, and I am not demanding that leaders do this 24/7. What I am asking, however, is for these prominent voices to start considering the fact that maybe we don’t want advice on how to be fixed- maybe we just want to see a day in their life, hear some stories about their failures, and listen to their doubts and concerns that they have when creating some fantastic projects for the movement. For people like me, who have never been surrounded by activists or community leaders, it is important to see what these projects look like from an intimate lens- often, I belittle my own intelligence because, when I try to brainstorm ideas, the process is messy and seems to be the exact opposite of the seamless process that these social media leaders have in generating and executing their ideas. When I was younger, this stark contrast made me think that I wasn’t built to serve our community through activism- I needed to have some gene in me, something different in the way my life was structured, or some sort of “smarts” that I seemed to lack. Now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to rise from those deep insecurities,, but it is disheartening to see that the movement has still not evolved much since then. We DESPERATELY need intimate conversations, not only to build stronger communities during quarantine, but to also better prepare eager activists on what mobilizing looks like and to make our fellow feminists feel more connected to the movement. It’s okay if, right now, we don’t feel empowered, confident, and creative- it’s not magic, it’s not an on-off switch, and that’s important to convey.
I will make one more quick point before I say my final words. For someone like me, who lived in a strangely driven, yet apathetic, youth environment where feminist rhetoric was not prominent, there is a lot I don’t know- and I have always been eager to learn through books, articles, magazines, and conversations. But we have to recognize that not everyone has the time to self-educate. Not everyone is keen on doing it either, whether because they are lazy or because reading is not their cup of tea. Whatever the reason, we have to be inclusive and we have to get the message across. Because when we don’t, we then see what turned me away from the movement in the first place- ignorant people blasting their deeply misconstrued ideas of feminism on videos and posts which end up going viral and taint the image of the movement. There is a dangerous assumption that every follower of feminism “gets” the message, and as we should have learned by now, this takes a toll on the legitimacy and power of the movement- this situation can change, but only if we stop spreading advice and start spreading FACTS.
Many women have been in the movement for so long that they have been numbed to many of these issues- as a relative newcomer, I held that “outside” perspective on why feminism has gained traction, but not overwhelming support. The ideas of this movement have the potential to be long-lasting and an emblem of the progressive movement. We just have to recognize the importance of achieving the goals of being all-embracing, educated, empowered, and most importantly, emotionally intelligent- it just takes a little bit of authenticity.