Every week, the women participating in my workshops easily share their experiences in the social, political or community world. However, it is difficult for them to talk about themselves. Several of them face complex situations: A divorce or a long layoff, illness of a relative whom they are caretakers, raising a disabled child. They are ashamed to speak up about how they feel; this should not be so. We women have the right and the duty to speak openly about what ails us in our private lives. The idea that the personal is political has to be a perfect circle.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi says that the lack of attention to physical, emotional and spiritual needs of women has become one of the weak points in the work of feminists. In our own social and institutional spheres where we work, the combined effects of the strong reactions against women’s movements, harassment on social networks, cultural and religious fundamentalisms, the pressures for leadership and the challenge of finding a balance between multiple spheres of life make it difficult to conserve energy.
While activisms mean resistance to the hegemonic system, some dynamics could reproduce patriarchal control’s devices on women’s emotions and impact us negatively: The expectation of renunciation and silent sacrifice as supreme feminine virtue. Sadness, illness or emotional distress are political issues and a way to control us with them is through the imposing or adopted silence about.
Renunciation is enabled in activisms through, for example, the compulsion to negotiation. Karina, one of the participants in my workshops, in charge of the Secretariat of Gender Affairs of her Workers Union, told us one day the violence that meant to her to feel pressured to accept certain terms because “women are so generous and conciliatory.” She cried helplessly when she got home.
The mandate of virtuous sacrifice operates, for example, when we neglect ourselves and remain silent in our moments of weakness.
Many times our colleagues and fellow activists are tired, depressed, angry, worn by family problems, with romantic trials, suffering for the betrayals people they trust, communication difficulties, job crisis or just because, because there are bad days when you do not feel like getting up. This impact seriously our activisms, but we do not speak about or we procrastinate on our emotional health and leave it for later, while we focus on helping others to find their balance. Or, in the name of feminism and the “movement”, we decry our comrades who want to express themselves in this regard because “there are more important things” or “the struggle is about political things” or “is not the space to hear romantic shit”.
If feminist spaces are not safe spaces to validate our experiences in misogynistic societies, or to dump all the pain of multiple patriarchal oppression we face on a daily basis with the certainty of receiving a lucid, honest, critical and loving support, then Where is that space ? Where we can socialize this daily violence that collectively we live in and build from it? Does exist this space to talk? If it doesn’t exist, we have to create it.
I remember my experience in Cape Town with a group of women from one of the most troubled districts. They met every Monday and the first 15 minutes were to share what had happened during the last week with them. It sounds childish, but for many of them was THE time of the week to get rid of a lot of fury, sorrow and fear of living in a highly violent environment and somehow, sharing their concerns allowed them to find common grounds and build up sisterhood.
Someone could say that feminism is NOT for those things, that is about politics and not self improvement. I agree. Feminism is NOT like a book written by Paulo Coelho or a manual on How-Be-Happy-Forever. It is more than that: It is a set of strategies for women to get awareness about ourselves, in terms of oppressions, challenges and possibilities and learn how to work together.
One of these strategies is learning and practice self caring and care -giving among us, as expressions of political love, in the understanding that silence and isolation on pain, illness, and emotional distress are elements of oppression. So, I take care of myself and others to break the socialization for neglecting and virtuous sacrifice imposed by patriarchy. In a system that educates us in self-devaluation and contempt towards other women, speaking up is an act of justice, joining together in pain is a way to resist and supporting each other in grief, is community preservation.
We are indivisible as humans. We can not leave half of our life at home while the other half go to the march. As individuals and collective we should invest time and talent in creating strategies to support and strengthen each other. The deeper and more intimate circles of our lives this strength gets, the merrier.
Because the struggle will always be ugly and will always be too much.
Because the personal is political.
Because the shared pain of today will create a better shared tomorrow.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional feminist interested in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work adresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.
Image: Anjum Khan, “Sisterhood”.