Hands up if you have felt guilty of letting the sisterhood down at least once in your life.
As a feminist growing up and finding my place in today’s extremely media-saturated, fast-paced and complicated world, I’ve asked myself whether the sisterhood would approve of my actions more than once. I mean, I am vain enough to enjoy posting more than one half naked picture of myself per week. I have had my body hair removed through laser and I sometimes dance to hip hop songs that use the word ‘bitch’ more than once, as if it were a normal, everyday adjective.
Yet, I’ve been a feminist since I can remember. I grew up wanting to be Buffy, Xena or Hermione rather than Cinderella or God knows which helpless heroine. I have never settled for the easy option or thought I shouldn’t fight for something just because I was born with a vagina or identified as a female.
So what is that existential dread that hits me hard on lonely Sunday nights whispering: “You’re not badass enough” as I go through past memories right before I go to sleep?
I feel like the fear of letting the sisterhood – and myself – down has caused me more pain than what’s necessary. Like many women, I have fallen for the wrong men, some of them so bad for me they inflicted more than just emotional wounds, making my family and friends question my sanity while faced with my desire of being around them. This fear of judgement made me close in on myself, facing my own disappointment with isolation and self-loathing. Why did I stay? There must be something wrong with me. I must be a bad feminist.
I would like to say that peace of mind came straight after the break-up, or when I started achieving some of my objectives. I’m afraid it’s a long winding road though, and that I can pinpoint my awakening to a night spent binging on How To Get Away With Murder on Netflix, by myself, on my couch. As Viola Davies looked both fierce and vulnerable in the courtroom and in her relationship with her husband I finally understood that being a feminist doesn’t mean being perfect, and it doesn’t mean doing everything by the book, because we should stop using someone else’s canon to measure our success or our ideals.
I have been so lucky to have been able to speak to incredible women about what feminism means to them. In a brief email exchange with Vice’s Megan Koester following one of her brilliant articles on feminism and domestic violence on Vice, she said that “it’s not our obligation to be the torch carriers for an entire gender.” And after fangirling over her latest book reading at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, author and The Times journalist Caitlin Moran told me that dancing to hip-hop or going out half-naked doesn’t make you less of a feminist if it’s your choice.
It took me years to get out of the “you’re not badass enough” loop. I realised how bad it was only a few days ago. I was editing a half-autobiographical novel following my editors’ suggestion to “go easy on the self-loathing” and, reading it all again, I went: “Shit, I wrote this character this miserable because that’s how I felt about myself.”
Now, when I think that I’m letting the sisterhood down I remember that I am not a spokesperson for a movement, but just any other woman trying to feel good in complicated, difficult times. Do dudes sit down and wonder whether they’re letting the brotherhood down as much as we do? Probably not. Real equality is being able to be ourselves without hearing voices hissing in our heads that we’re simply not worth it.