Yesterday I reached the point of feminist exhaustion.
Jessica Valenti has referred to this as ‘feminist burnout’. And thanks to her and a fairly recently blog she wrote about the subject for The Nation I know that I’m not alone. Sadly, knowing that I’m one of many feminist advocates who feel overwhelmed, deflated, and at a loss with the world doesn’t really make me feel that much better.
In my academic day job I spend most of my time writing, reading, talking, and counselling about eating disorders and concurrent mental health issues including body issues, self-esteem, self-injury, and suicide. My research involves an exploration of the secrecy and stigma that surrounds eating disorders; a primary symptomology of these syndromes that causes far too many to remain isolated, refrain from seeking help, and more often than not, become sicker. It’s a terrifying but very true reality and it’s one that often hits me like a tonne of bricks.
Many with eating disorders struggle, suffer, and do so in silence and completely alone. In my, albeit very biased opinion, little has been done by way of research to assist those with concealed eating disorders. Why? Perhaps the research is too difficult, too complex, but more than likely under-funded and under-appreciated. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorder based research receives $0.93 funding dollars for each individual affected, in comparison to the staggering $88 funding dollars granted for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet eating disorders affects an approximate 30 million Americans, while Alzheimer’s reaches 5.1 million. The numbers just don’t make sense, but it explains why my area of research is so lacking.
So I continue to work in an area that is not really respected but still sees millions suffer. At times it becomes too sad to think about.
Outside of academia, I volunteer and advocate for reproductive justice and an end to violence against women. Currently, I volunteer as a client escort for the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick – the only public abortion clinic in the Maritime Provinces. I often write about my disgust with the lack of care for women’s reproductive health out East, and the limted attention that neglect of New Brunswick women receives nationally. I also recently started training for a new volunteer position as a crisis interventionist with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (FSACC). As a city with the third highest rates of sexual assault in the country, FSACC is a vital, crucial, all-too important resource. I have always wanted to get involved with this fantastic organization and, when I heard that they were in need of more volunteers, I figured it was a great time to give it a shot.
But blocking the way of angry anti-choice protestors so a woman can receive an abortion (A CHOICE THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT HAS DEEMED ALL WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE) and constantly devling into the harsh reality of rape culture – the lack of sexual assault prosecution, the limited resources for survivors, the shame, blame, and stigmatization that surrounds the victim rather than the rapist – it becomes all too unbearable.
At the end of the day, the world is still a very patriarchal place and women are still forced to make the best of it in the hopes of coming out for the better on the other side.
It’s unfair. It’s unjustice. But it’s reality. So as I’m sure all good feminists do from time to time, I became overwhelmed by it all and wanted to shut down. Tune out the world. Pretend things aren’t as bad as they seem.
But jessica Valenti, in her wise feminist ways, has advice for us exhausted fem2 advocates: embrace it, connect with like-others, use energy where it’s most needed, and remember how important the work is. Because it is important. We have a long way to go, but look at how far we’ve come. It’s the hard work of strong and more than likely exhausted past and present fem2 advocate that got us here.
Prehaps most significantly, Jessica tells us to get creative with our exhaustion.Do something that helps the cause but HELPS YOU at the same time. Activism and self love all at the same time- that’s something I can get on board with.
Hence why I’m writing about how I feel. I’m not overly creative in the t-shirt making, song writing, ‘paint out your frustration’ kind of way. But I love to write, and I love complaining and forcing others to take part in my frustration (that’s a joke…sort of). Writing is how I express myself, reach a larger audience, and give important topics a stage.
So I use my favorite of forums now to reach out to others in the hopes of connecting in our mutual exhaustion and beginning a dialogue to empower, enlight, and recharge us through the rough feminist waters.
The world will get better if we can make it through the undercurrent of androcentric mentalities and continue doing what we do best – fighting the good feminist fight. But we need each other, creative sounding boards, and lots of complaining to get us through a little less burnt out and a little more hopeful for the women of the world.