Feels Matter

I often see cis-male anarchists dismissing feminism as irrational because feminists place special emphasis on emotions and feelings, such as what it feels like to be a women in an all male space. The problem with this view is that feelings are very important from an anarchist perspective because feelings are a core part of what it is to be free or unfree.

To understand this we must remember that when discussing freedom and oppression we are not merely discussing abstract concepts but the lives and experiences of really existing human beings in a particular society. Human beings who have emotions which constantly shape not only how they act, but also how they experience and understand their lives. So since freedom and domination are experiences which humans have, they are also fundamentally emotional experiences.

This can be seen when we examine instances of freedom and domination in the real world. When individuals lead a free life they experience very important feelings such as a sense of having control over their life and influencing decisions which affect them, or feeling like other individuals treat them with respect and view them as an equal. These feelings in turn shape how individuals think about themselves, such as feeling like they matter or that they have worthwhile skills. While individuals who are unfree experience feelings such as feeling like they don’t belong in a given space, that they have no control over their life and their environment, or that others don’t care about them and their needs. This likewise changes how they think about themselves and causes them to develop feelings such as low self-esteem or a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Thus, if we care about freedom then we must also care about the feelings that constitute a free life. And if we care about ending domination then we must care about the feelings that constitute the experience of being dominated.

Moreover, each of us can verify this point ourselves by recalling moments in our lives when we have been free or unfree. When we do so we quickly remember things such as how our closest friends made us feel when we laughed and had fun, or how our bosses or teachers made us feel when they ordered us about and treated us as lesser people. Cis-male anarchists should keep these memories in mind when women and non-binary people discuss how sexism makes them feel, and so discuss similar complex and important internal experiences.

Given all of this, we can easily see why feminists talk so much about how sexism makes them feel. To not talk about these feelings would lead to an inaccurate picture of what sexism is and what the consequences of sexism are. How, for example, can we make sense of why men being condescending towards women is wrong unless we understand how such condescending behavior makes women feel? Talking about feelings is also important in coming to understand what a non-sexist space or society would look like. By examining, for example, the feelings of women who are intimidated by men in group discussions we can come to imagine and implement norms that will ensure that women no longer feel intimidated in this way. Emphasising the importance of feelings thus not only helps us understand the world, but also how to change it and change ourselves.