Developing feminist consciousness—the awareness of the sexist systems of oppression—is very difficult at first because sexist oppression is so built into culture, into life, into the most mundane and exalted things, in a word, so ubiquitous, that one is tempted to believe that this is how has always been and how it always must be, that it’s simply natural, and therefore ethically justifiable. One is not just tempted, rather one is continuously instructed, taught and strong-armed into thinking that it is natural.
Yet, despite the programming to make women cooperate with their own oppression, sometimes things happen to us that make us feel uneasy. We don’t quite know why. We just get a sense of the injustice being perpetrated against us, without being able to really articulate why.
What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.
The Matrix, Morpheus speaking
You start to feel crazy at this intermediate stage. Is it just me? What am I doing to attract this street harassment? Maybe I really am not as good and that’s why I was passed up for a promotion? Maybe it’s my fault for walking into videgogames/the weightlifting gym/politics/etc. You try maybe to talk to others about it and unfortunately most of those others aren’t feminists and can’t help you; can only offer you at best intermediate coping strategies that place the onus on you but don’t address the underlying situation. You still feel that it’s a personal problem that you have to fix personally. You might have the misfortune of running into someone who has fixed some part of the problem personally and thinks anyone who can’t manage it is weak and stupid and will make you feel worse. You might become that person yourself.
This awful stage can last your whole life. Even once you develop feminist consciousness, things still will happen that you will not be able to quickly analyze, and you will still be undermined.
Then, if you’re lucky, you will find some writing, or some person who in addition to presenting you with depressing facts about gender inequality will give you an outline of the system of oppression, and if it’s someone you can relate to, dangerous ideas will start to brew in your mind.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Except, unlike the red pill, feminist consciousness doesn’t come instantly. If I may bore you with an anecdote, I first read about the patriarchy (the system of sexist oppression) when I was fourteen. It made sense instantly. Even though the ideas were there at the back of my mind, I managed to ignore them for more than ten years. It took ten years of lived experience of oppression and a lot of self-education for me to start to get it.
Sometimes, the facts are so depressing, that it’s easier to pretend they aren’t true. Surely the world can’t be that awful? It takes not so much intellectual acumen as courage to develop feminist consciousness.
Once you become aware, it’s impossible to ever entirely turn off that analytical view. The very ubiquitousness of sexist oppression that made it difficult to develop feminist consciousness in the first place now makes it difficult to live with it. Sometimes it’s downright exhausting.
So why bother? Why not live in blissful ignorance? Because ignorance isn’t blissful. You will still experience the material realities of oppression: pay inequity, gender-based violence, silencing (to name a few) whether or not you understand why. You will also still feel that splinter at the back of your mind. You just won’t know why and will feel crazy when you try to think about it.
Why bother? Because this is the only way things will change. We can only begin to fix the problems if we first discover, name, and analyze them.
Sometimes I have a fantasy of slipping the red pill of awakening into the water supply, and having an instant, universal feminist revolution, where everyone suddenly gets it, and changes their actions. Sadly there is no red pill, and all I can do is write, and hope someone reads it, and that it moves them closer to getting it.