There was a sentence that changed the way I saw very many situations that us humans face on a daily basis. It says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” (a quote by Desmond Tutu, I believe). You have probably heard it before but this sh*it is relevant. In any oppressive situation, when you choose to stay out of it just because it is “none of your business” you are supporting the actions of the powerful. There are many scenarios where neutrality or objectivity is not what we need.
Ever since I thought about this, I pay attention to my surroundings and I intervene, even when I am not affected directly by the matter. Especially when a person’s well-being is, by my appreciation, in danger, I do something. Even if it is getting close and asking the apparent victim if she is okay. Sometimes you can not save them, but you can do something.
However, I must admit that there are times where I stay silent and I do not share my thoughts even do I know I am, in fact, right. Sadly enough, feminism still is something many people (both women and men) do not know anything about. Quite often, they will speak about it regardless of how little they actually know.
I’m sorry to say this, but not all opinions are valid or matter. That is a (beautiful, liberal) lie and it can be very harmful. If your opinion is merely based upon your thoughts and has no data to support it (either theoretical or practical), it might not be relevant and someone should tell you. Do not intervene in a feminist debate if all your statements on this topic include “I have a mother and a sister so I know what this is about because I care about women” or “There are also mean women who falsely report domestic abuse to take advantage of the situation.” Shut up. And listen. Listen to women speaking about this because hey, they’re the ones suffering the oppression so they might have something to say about it and this may not be another fight for you to lead. Sorry, buddy.
Anyways, going back to the starting point, I would like to share that even though I am a person who passionately reads articles and books about feminism, who discusses this topic as much as the people around me want to and who even writes in this platform about it, sometimes I do not act like a feminist should. I, by no means, consider myself an expert, but I do work hard to be a better feminist every day, not only for me but for everyone that surrounds me.
Still, quite often I find myself surrounded by girls or guys who know nothing about feminism and who are not my close friends. Then they just say stuff that makes me cringe (like Mary) and I do not start a debate or an argument over it.
Quite often I find myself in class and a teacher makes a sexist comment and I know no one else is going to agree with me. I may also happen to know that the teacher will not accept my honest opinion. In the end, I want no problems with an ignorant person (ignorant on feminism I mean) who is going to be in charge of my grades.
Quite often I sit down at family meetings and I hear an uncle or a family friend making a sexist comment and I have to bite my tongue. Because he may be 50 and he has not read a book about feminism in his whole life. One thing is going to happen that will make it even more dangerous: I am young. So he is systematically going to blame my ideas on my youth and he will be extremely paternalistic, letting me know, “I will understand when I grow up.”
In all these situations, I stay silent. And then I come home and deeply regret that silence. Because it comes from a place where my insecurities resist. Because I happen to believe that people who do not know me well will not like me anymore if I show how enthusiastic I am about feminism. Because I think that I do not know enough about feminism to argue about it with a teacher without exposing myself too much. Because I prefer to have a nice family meeting than to create controversy over how sexist my uncle happens to be. Because sometimes, feminism is too much for people who haven’t put any thought to it or who think they know everything about it but have not read or listened enough to truly form an opinion that is valid. Because as I said at the beginning, not all opinions are valid.
In all these situations, I stay silent. And I am sorry. I am sorry to admit that it is not easy to stay true to what you believe in all the time if you want to be accepted. I regret wanting to be accepted and changing myself for it. And believe me, I am starting to stand up more. Still, I want you to know you are not alone if you ever feel like you should have spoken but you just could not.
In the end, I want you to go by Roxane Gay’s words: “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” So stay silent if you do not feel safe to speak and keep reading: one day you will always feel safe.