For as long as I can remember, I have always felt anger at the manner in which women were and are treated. Knowing that there were things thought to be outside of my scope of ability, or even comprehension, purely because I was a girl/woman infuriated me. At the time, I didn’t have the language but the absence thereof did not negate the feelings of anger and invisibility.
As I grew up, and by extension, became angrier, words like ‘patriarchy,’ and ‘misogyny’ began to give meaning and context to all that I had been feeling. Eventually, the word ‘feminist’ would be the one that ultimately opened my eyes. I was in awe of how this mere eight letter word was so all-encompassing, accurate and a reflection of exactly what I wanted to be.
Initially, my understanding of feminism as a cause, an ideology and a way of living was not radical. My understanding of gender, race, class and sexuality were very formative. Again, the beauty of unlearning, learning and language reappeared once more. At present day, (I feel the need to emphasis present day because my politics will continue to evolve and improve) I am comfortable with calling myself an intersectional African queer feminist.
Being a feminist, and having conversations about feminism online, has not been as peaceful as it has been challenging. Every other day I have been called a ‘bad’ woman, one who doesn’t like children (quite the contrary, I adore them), a ‘fast’ woman, a woman that hates men, a woman that doesn’t want the black community to grow — essentially, the internet has demonised me, my politics and lived experiences. I have been publicly mocked about sexual trauma, I have been slut shamed, I have had people not believe me and some even justify various ways in which I have been violated.
Consequently, I have had to step back from being as vocal. Of course this makes me feel like an erasure of sorts has begun or that I have been silenced – which is exactly what patriarchy seeks to do to women. I have also stepped away, particularly from Twitter, after realising how much it was affecting my mental health. Constantly consuming the trauma and violence experienced and perpetuated by others was taking a serious toll on my ability to be objective, to be hopeful and even useful to the cause. I also stepped away to figure things out for myself, to redefine what things mean for me and the ways in which I actively seek to be an embodiment of feminist ways of living and practice.
The advent of coronavirus has affected me and my politics in a way that I did not quite anticipate. Living in a country that was ‘hit’ relatively late, there was this false sense of immunity that I experienced until people close to me started to lose people they cared about to COVID. In all those moments, I did not know how to hold them and make them feel supported. It made me evaluate what it means to hold women during grief, during a pandemic while adhering to all the protocols. That proved very difficult, especially as a black woman who expresses care through physical affection in instances where words fail. All I wanted to do was hold my friends, to comfort them, to wipe their tears, to sit in silence with them, to express community care through labour (baking scones, cooking while they rest, serving guests while allowing them to grieve in private, etc). None of these things can be adequately achieved nor replicated through Zoom or a WhatsApp call.
Being an empath also meant that I was absorbing a lot of collective grief and not quite knowing where to place it. I didn’t even want to acknowledge that it was affecting me for fear of centering myself. But the truth is that the pain of others, especially those you care about, sits with you. It’s the headache that won’t go away, it’s back pain, it’s the lack of sleep, it’s forgetting to eat. Collectively, these things start to take a toll on one’s well-being. You are chronically exhausted and don’t have the language to express it because of how unprecedented everything is.
Lately, I am taking things slowly and trying to compartmentalise. I am interrogating what it means to make room for all the sadness and grief while allowing the sun to shine through into my life. I am learning to make room for the good, the bad and the unknown. I don’t always get it right, particularly with someone that grapples with mental health illnesses but it matters that I try in whatever ways I can and that looks very different every day.