How To Cope When Your Feminist Beliefs Aren't Shared By Your Family & Friends
It's a strange thing to be surrounded by people and yet feel incredibly alone, isn't it? To feel the currents of energy swirl all around you and realize your currents are flowing in an opposite direction can be very polarizing. So what do you do? How do you lessen the sting of isolation when you're standing in a crowded room with people of differing ideologies? Well, for many of us, it's a matter of learning how to cope when your feminist beliefs aren't shared by your family and friends. Such has certainly been my plight since I moved back "home" and have struggled to adapt to the whole square peg/round hole paradigm.
There's a reason I use "home," rather than home — because although we often refer to wherever we grew up as "home," it doesn't always feel like home, especially after you enter adulthood. Growing up, I lived in an incredibly small, rural town in the South. There were 22 people in my graduating class, most of whom I'd gone to school with since kindergarten. To say I suffered from small town syndrome upon graduating would be an understatement. I was so eager to spread my wings that I decided to fly the nearly 5000 miles it took to get to the University of Hawaii.
In that time and the time after, travel became my greatest teacher. Living in states far different from the one I grew up in — and traveling to foreign locales — expanded my perspective. Those experiences shaped me immeasurably as a person. Meeting women from all over the world and all walks of like also strengthened the resolve of my feminist beliefs. I was often reminded during that time that the patriarchy is real, that inequality exists, and that to be silent in the face of those things (and the misogyny and sexism — not to mention the racism, the homophobia and transphobia, and more — that go with them) is to be complicit. As a white, college-educated woman, I have inherent privilege. At the risk of quoting Spider-Man, I've always felt that with that privilege comes great responsibility, and I've tried my best to be equal to that responsibility.
Fast forward a few years, and I'm married. My husband and I are living in Connecticut, but have decided to move back "home" to South Carolina. And a few years after that, when we discover we are expecting our first child, we choose to move out of the city and back to my small home town to be closer to family.
Spoiler alert: It didn't last. We never fully felt like we fit back in while we were there.
Ask Yourself The Hard Questions
Even now, living in the city, it's hard sometimes to reconcile the love we have for our family and friends with the fact that, in so many ways, we seem to be fundamentally different. My feminism is certainly a sticking point. It makes them uncomfortable when I talk about the wage gap, and how women here and abroad are still marginalized on a daily basis. Some outright argue against the facts — "the wage gap is a misconception," etc. Some post defiant memes in their social media news feeds proclaiming how proud they are not to be feminists. When I try to have discourse about how that argument is illogical (how could anyone not want equality for everyone?), some of them even roll their eyes at me and laugh. As though this thing — this feminism — is a shtick, some phase I'm trying on and will grow weary of in a few months the same way I might shuffle off a heavy coat in the spring.
Understandably, this awkward emotional distance between us has only widened since Donald Trump was elected president. To my knowledge, I am one of only two people among my family and close friends who did not vote for him. To be honest, some days I simply feel terribly lonely. Even among friends. Even when we're laughing and telling jokes, I feel as though I'm missing something. Could it be that what I'm missing is friends that can be my cultural touchstones? Others who share my passion for equality and women's rights? And then, I think... if my friends are truly friends, shouldn't I feel comfortable sharing the things that matter most to me?
At Least Attempt To Have The Hard Conversations
In my mind, the first step to solving this query is to do just that: Try to be open and authentic about your beliefs with the people closest to you and see how it goes. So that's what I've done. But I can sense that, while they love me and they want to support me, they don't share my passion. It fills the space between us with an unspoken tension, which we then feel compelled to dispel by cracking a silly joke or changing the subject. I don't hold this against them; at some point in our journey together, I've obviously learned to censor myself so as not to them uncomfortable.
Thus bringing us here, to what I am referring to as my third-life crisis. My husband and I often idly discuss moving to Southern California, where he is from and where we are fortunate to have many friends whose belief systems align with our own. We have small children, though, who are currently surrounded by cousins close in age. Not to mention, they adore their grandparents. Would it be selfish to move them so far away, or would it be a disservice to stay somewhere we aren't sure we belong at this point in time?
Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
While I've failed to actualize a solution just yet, I have made important strides. For starters, I have begun reaching out more to organizations that directly support feminist causes. I've made donations to Planned Parenthood. And thanks to a secret group on Facebook filled with strong, empowered, like-minded women, I realized that perhaps what is missing in my life are like-minded individuals in my inner circle. I have such friends, so why am I not spending more time with them? I love the friends and family I do spend time with on a regular basis, and this takes nothing away from them. Rather, I feel as though it can only strengthen our relationships because it will relieve the pressure for them to be something for me that they are not and vice versa.
To that end, I'm taking active steps to engage more with the people who share my passion and who not only appreciate my feminism but embrace it. I've joined the local chapter of Solidarity Sundays, and I've reached out to a few people who made a big impression on me in local blogging groups. I feel hopeful that somewhere in the mix I might find my potential social activist soulmates.
It's a work in progress, and it likely always will be. But it's a start — and, as the saying now goes, nevertheless, I will persist.