Today I want to try something different. I want to write about my experience at UK Feminista Summer School on Sunday. But I don’t want to bring in politics, or pass judgement; at least not yet.
I only attended the School on Sunday. I went with a friend from Cardiff Feminist Network.
From the very beginning of the event, specifically during the “Welcome & Introduction” session, I felt disconnected from everyone else in the room. I am not entirely sure why. I was experiencing the familiar feeling that “everyone else is much better than me”. This meant that I was feeling quite low. And things only got worse.
Throughout the day I had to struggle with this feeling of “lowness” or depression. Everyone was smarter, prettier, more successful and more sociable. Everyone wanted to be with everyone else. Except me.
Lunchtime was Hell. The meal I had lovingly made for myself sucked. And all the other women were happily chatting away with all the other women. I was confronted, once again, with the cold, harsh reality that I am quite shy, and struggle to interact with strangers. I was unhappy. I felt as if all the other women had learnt something I never did: how to be happy and chat to complete strangers. So I remained on my own. I paced around the room on my own. And eventually ended up where most loners like me end up: behind books. It was high school, all over again.
After lunch I attended a talk titled “Activism in Theory and Practice: from research to the ‘real’ world”.
The word I used to describe the talk when taking notes was “crap”. Yes, it’s harsh, but that’s how I felt then. The talk made me feel unbelievably lonely because I could tell I was the most radical person in the room. This made me feel like a “black sheep”. It was as if I was standing on the other side of a pane of glass: I was next to everybody, but I just wasn’t “there”. Feelings of hopelessness and despair followed through. The experience left me wondering “why bother trying to be a political writer? It’s all a waste of time because I can’t get on with people”.
The talk was “crap” because the women who gave it belonged to the “fine” tradition of postmodernist thought, and were therefore quite careful not to think or, heaven forbid, give their opinion on anything. Yes, even though they were in a room full of feminists. Even though they were not “lecturing” us on anything, because we were not their students. They still tried to appear “objective”. Which meant, inevitably, that they spoke of nothing. That’s the essence of postmodernism right there. It appeared that nobody else but me could see that, however.
The non-lecturers asked us to form groups and discuss what they had brought up. Once again, just like high school. We went around saying our names and what we “did”. One woman from a “public sector/voluntary sector/good job helping people”, and three young women with glamorous student careers. When it got to me, I lost it. What was I supposed to say? “I am unemployed, have depression and dream of becoming a writer”? I was feeling too low even for that. So this is what I said “I sit at home and suffer”. Which is pretty accurate anyway. And I am nothing if not a drama queen.
Then, two more talks followed. “How the cuts are hitting women hardest” and “The global struggle: international feminist resistance”. The feelings brought up by the first talk only grew stronger with the second one. I felt decidedly unimportant compared with the women giving the talks. Their presence brought up feelings of resentment: they had nice jobs going around changing the world. And then they got to give talks to fellow feminists. I felt there was a hierarchical set up, and I was at the bottomest bottom. And I grew resentful because of it. The hierarchy seemed to say “these women have done worthy things, they spend their lives doing worthy things, that is why you should listen to what they have to say; and no, you have nothing worthy to say because you don’t spend your life doing worthy things”. In order to “defend” myself from this hierarchy, I had to remind myself that, worthy as these women’s deeds may be, they get paid to do them. That’s right: their feminist work is a full time job. Meanwhile, my feminism is done for free. So why should they have something worthy to say and not me?
These feelings are not pretty. These thoughts are less so. But that’s what I felt and that’s what I thought. My feelings and thoughts are what they are. I am not “blaming” anyone over them. My feelings are not “right” nor are they “wrong”. The thoughts I had were an attempt to counter very painful feelings.
If you wonder why the blazes I am writing about painful feelings of depression, social exclusion and inadequacy, I give you Brene Brown on courage:
The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
(...) I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage
(...) Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.
(I'll try to write something a bit more positive on UK Feminista Summer School soon.)