Why I Failed Feminism 101: Gender, Sexuality, and the Power of Relationships
I was once told by my ardent feminist advisor in undergrad to “not put all my proverbial eggs in one man basket” after discussing my relationship with my boyfriend over a cup of coffee. Thinking my relationship was different and that we were special, I heeded the warning but thought of it no further. Now, looking back on it three in a half years later, I wish I would have.
Relationships are a powerful tool. They help to make you feel special. They help to bring you joy. They help you discover the reason why a divine presence may have endowed us with the ability to love and most importantly they help you realize and discover things about yourself you may have never taken the time to notice.
Feminism 101 is more than just the pop culture stereotype of a bunch of women advising the younger generation of girls to be weary of men and the pain they can bring. Feminism, specifically as what I now call Feminism 101, is the transformative ability to listen to your elders, trust yourself, and ultimately, if you happen to trust in the relationship you have built, knowing deep down that it is built on equality, love, and trust.
Recently, I have been told that hindsight is 20/20. I should have been more aware when I realized that my former partner had no inclination towards anything having to do with feminism and more importantly the tenets it taught. Refusing to see how feminism had even touched his life, he shrugged off my work but continued to “support me” and my noble cause. I took for granted and fell victim to many of the same stories we all hear but refuse to ever accept as possibilities in our own lives. “We’re different,” “He loves me,” “We can make it through anything,” these thoughts haunt my mind as I sit back and think about the reality of my situation and the stories I told myself in order to feel better knowing deep down I should have trusted my gut.
As I continued to wonder down my blinded path, I forgot about the stories I had heard and read for years of men abusing their power and privilege and women being the ones who usually had to bare the brunt of whatever issue they were facing. I took the picture of a relationship I had concocted and forgot, that relationships, like feminism, are not easy, and that it is a conscious and continual effort of renewal to remind yourself everyday why you love the person you love and more importantly, in the case of feminism, why you fight, “the good fight.”
Although I feel like I have failed feminism, I sit back and look at the world around me and realize that everyday is a constant struggle to stay alive. Everyday I have to find a reason to exist without my partner and best friend. As my world crashed in around me and I felt like I had nothing else to live for, I remembered that maybe I didn’t fail feminism after all but rather had to rediscover it. Through the pain and struggles of my sisters (and brothers) before me, I had to realize that the thing getting me up everyday was the community of individuals I had built around me who support and continue to show me love. Although my former partner was no longer fighting for our relationship, it was the relationships with my peers that remained when everything else went dark. Relationships are a powerful tool to help us realize why we are not alone and why in our darkest times life really does get better. Feminism not only teaches us about ourselves but rather the power of relationships and the roles they have in constructing and shaping the individuals we hope to become. Relationships are the backbone in which feminism is built upon because without our community of love, support, and equality we wouldn’t have anything or anyone worth fighting for.
Maybe I didn’t fail Feminism 101 after all, but rather I had to go through the hardest lesson by myself, with the help of my sisters and brothers, to finally be able to move onto the next and most important lesson of not only loving myself but finding someone to build a relationship based on mutuality, veneration, and equality with. Although I may have lost something special and an important person in my life, I learned a valuable lesson in not only trusting someone else but also trusting and believing in the relationship I have with myself.
John Erickson is a doctoral student in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements. His work is inspired by the intersectionality of feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric. He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.