Despair and Being a Feminist

One of the consequences of trying to explain feminism to strangers on the internet is having to deal with a lot of backlash from people who are stuck on autopilot and repeat their anti-feminist or anti-identity politics script, rather than actually engage with what you’ve written. I have to remind myself that if it was easy then patriarchy would have already been abolished.

These experiences of knee-jerk reactions to feminism leads to despair and anguish as I find it difficult to deal with the hostility that people have towards the most basic commitment to genuine human liberation.

To recover from all of this despair I like to read Emma Goldman because I think we can all learn from her remarkable capacity to give zero fucks.  Emma Goldman had to deal with vast amounts of bullshit when she actively supported queer liberation by giving talks on homosexuality and campaigning for Oscar Wild’s freedom when he was imprisoned for having sex with a man. In her autobiography ‘Living My Life’ Goldman writes:

Censorship came from some of my own comrades because I was treating such ‘unnatural’ themes as homosexuality. Anarchism was already enough misunderstood, and anarchists considered depraved; it was inadvisable to add to the misconceptions by taking up perverted sex-forms, they argued. Believing in freedom of opinion, even if it went against me, I minded the censors in my own ranks as little as I did those in the enemy’s camp. In fact, censorship from comrades had the same effect on me as police persecution; it made me surer of myself, more determined to plead for every victim, be it one of social wrong or of moral prejudice.

The men and women who used to come to see me after my lectures on homosexuality, and who confided to me their anguish and their isolation, were often of finer grain than those who had cast them out. Most of them had reached an adequate understanding of their differentiation only after years of struggle to stifle what they had considered a disease and a shameful affliction. One young woman confessed to me that in the twenty-five years of her life she had never known a day when the nearness of a man, her own father and brothers even, did not make her ill. The more she had tried to respond to sexual approach, the more repugnant men became to her. She had hated herself, she said, because she could not love her father and her brothers as she loved her mother. She suffered excruciating remorse, but her revulsion only increased. At the age of eighteen she had accepted an offer of marriage in the hope that a long engagement might help her grow accustomed to a man and cure her of her ‘disease.’ It turned out a ghastly failure and nearly drove her insane. She could not face marriage and she dared not confide in her fiancé or friends. She had never met anyone, she told me, who suffered from a similar affliction, nor had she ever read books dealing with the subject. My lecture had set her free; I had given her back her self-respect.

This woman was only one of the many who sought me out. Their pitiful stories made the social ostracism of the invert seem more dreadful than I had ever realized before. To me anarchism was not a mere theory for a distant future; it was a living influence to free us from inhibitions, internal no less than external, and from the destructive barriers that separate man from man. (Goldman 1970, 555-6)

What I get from this passage is that it is important to remember that we’re not alone in this struggle. So many amazing people before us have fought so hard for feminism and if they could then we can too. We should focus less on the terrible anti-feminism that pervades the internet and society at large. Instead we should remind ourselves of all the gender queer people who have not killed themselves because of feminism, or of all the men who have re-connected with their emotions due to feminism, or all the women who have learned to better accept their bodies due to feminism, or all the women who have embraced their sexuality or discovered their true intellectual worth due to feminism, or all the women who have been able to flee abusive relationships because of feminist run shelters. It is these stories of people liberating themselves from both internal and external forms of oppression that we should fill our consciousnesses with and use them as a source of nourishment in the struggles to come.


Goldman, Emma. 1970. Living My Life Volume 2. New York: Dover Publications.

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