“Did I just say something that was non-inclusive?” “Am I performing my gender TOO much?” “Did I just forget to use the proper gender pronoun for that person?” “Why do I care about shaving my legs?!” “I should love my body, I should love my body, I SHOULD love my body!” “I can’t believe that person just said that about [insert minority group here]! Don’t they know better?” “Sexuality is a spectrum.” “Cocktails are on sale for Ladies’ Night at this bar? What, do ‘ladies’ not drink beer? Huh? Huh?!?!?!”
These are just a tiny fraction of the questions/statements/comments/criticisms that run through my head every moment of my waking existence and sometimes in my sleep on a daily basis. I am constantly critiquing myself and those around me for not being feminist enough.
I am a second year Master’s student in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. And I love it. I love feminism. I love the fact that there are multiple types of feminism. I love to have deep, thought-provoking dialogue about silly TV shows like Pretty Little Liars (which I am kind of obsessed with… don’t judge). I also love the fact that I am surrounded by feminist-identifying friends on a constant basis. But there is one big problem: I AM EXHAUSTED by feminism.
As a grad student, I learn SO many things about feminism. And, also as a grad student, I learn how to critique feminism and find out faults about everything every author had to say about feminism ever. My life has turned into one big critique. My weekly response papers, my final essays, and my class discussions all include finding a fault, a gap in literature, something not right. And I have now realized that this type of critique is leeching over into my daily life, and is beginning to influence the way I view myself and others.
Now, this can be a great thing. Critiquing yourself—critically examining your beliefs, ideas, actions, and values—can allow for positive growth to occur. It can help people become more well-rounded, open, and knowledgeable individuals. But too much self-critiquing can also be very destructive—not to mention overwhelming.
That is the point I’ve gotten to. This is my problem. I want to be a perfect feminist. I feel that if I am not a perfect feminist, then I am a failure.
I have struggled with this problem for years, but now I find it’s getting worse. Sometimes, I find myself losing sleep at night thinking about what I did wrong today and how I can be better tomorrow. I get increasingly disappointed in myself when I make a mistake, no matter how big or small. Recently, I came to the realization that this seriously needs to stop. I am exhausted.
I need to stop critiquing myself, and I need to stop critiquing others. YOU—the person reading this post—are also not a perfect feminist (sorry to burst your bubble). And that’s okay. Who wants to be perfect, anyway? You would just be conforming to some idealized standard that mitigates individual differences and eventually you’d melt into an abyss of homogeneity. So there’s your feminist critique of that situation.
But, really, my point is this: I CAN fail. I cannot be perfect. I am me. You are you. You cannot be perfect. You can fail. And, as long as we are trying to be better—just a little, tiny bit at a time—that’s all that really matters. I can make mistakes. You can make mistakes. And everything’s going to be okay.
And, for that to happen—for us to be able to make mistakes together—I have to be forgiving of you and forgiving of myself. You have be forgiving of me and forgiving of yourself. We are in this together, and we all want to be perfect. But we can’t be. So let’s just give ourselves a break and be okay with it.
My participation in WILL this past year has played a crucial role in helping me come to this imperfect realization. I would always worry—and still do—about the activities I choose to facilitate in WILL as the graduate assistant of the program. Are they feminist enough? Are they inclusive? Do they relate to feminist leadership? What will people think of this—and of me—if this activity fails?
I have facilitated activities that have crashed and burned to the ground. But you know what? I think that’s okay. And I need people to be able to forgive me and to be okay with it as well. I need to be able to forgive myself. I can’t be perfect. I am a human being that makes mistakes but always wants to learn, to grow, and to be a better person.
I learned this in WILL. It’s a hard truth to deal with, because when I make a mistake I always want to go hide under my covers and ball up into a pile of self-pitying failure. But I can’t. And I don’t need other people to make me feel that way. I don’t need to make myself feel that way. What I do need are friends who are willing to forgive. Fellow feminists who can tell me, “You’re not perfect, and that’s okay—we’ll get through this together.”
I hope that WILL becomes that space for people for many years to come. We are all on different stages of our journey with feminism. We can all help each other learn and grow and become better people. But we all need to be forgiving of ourselves and of each other—because absolutely no one in this world is perfect. Not you, and certainly not me.
Mercedes Katis is a 2nd year Master’s student in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She also serves the role of Graduate Assistant to the WILL program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.